Massive protests, the biggest since President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III took office three years ago, rocked the Philippines on National Heroes Day as hundreds of thousands expressed indignation against government corruption and called for the full abolition of the pork barrel.
Police estimated that around 80,000 to 100,000 gathered in Rizal Park in Manila, the national capital, while thousands more held mass actions in other cities nationwide.
Public outrage against the corruption-tainted pork barrel came in the wake of exposés on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which is allotted for legislators in Congress and Senate for use in pet projects.
The PDAF has long been the target of critics as a site of official corruption. But public uproar swelled after a whistleblower identified businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles who is alleged to have conspired with lawmakers to pocket P10 billion through the fund.
Dubbed the “Million People March,” the idea behind Monday's predominantly middle-class gathering in Rizal Park originated from social media interactions between concerned netizens on Facebook and Twitter.
The concept for a million people march against the pork barrel began with a random Facebook post by music producer Ito Rapadas.
What we need is a MILLION PEOPLE MARCH by struggling Filipino taxpayers- a day of protest by the silent majority that would demand all politicians and govt. officials (whatever the political stripes, color they may carry) to stop pocketing our taxes borne out from our hard work by means of these pork barrel scams and other creative criminal acts.
This was shared by various netizens including his friend Peachy Bretaña who suggested that the mass action be held on August 26 in time for the National Heroes Day.
Protest actions were also held in various cities nationwide, notably in Bacolod City, Baguio City, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu City, Dagupan City, Davao City, Digos City, Dumaguete City, Iloilo City, Naga City, and Puerto Princessa in Palawan.
Perhaps to deflect public outrage, Aquino promised the abolition of the PDAF and its replacement by a more transparent funding scheme last Friday. The protest action still pushed through.
During the day of the actual protest, President Aquino and his spokespersons announced that the government was on the same side with the protesters. Apparently, many were not convinced. Here were some reactions on Twitter:
You don't decide where we want our money to go. WE DO. We want our money for national development, welfare and security. #AbolishPork
— Joseph Benjamin Seña (@MonsterICEMAN) August 27, 2013
If Noynoy and protesters on the same side, why did people still go out despite his presscon last week? Abolish vs renaming. Big difference
— Renato Reyes, Jr. (@natoreyes) August 26, 2013
Meanwhile, Pixel Offensive said that if the President is truly on the people's side against pork barrel it should manifest on the following:
1) Abolition of all pork, no exemption. Kulangot lang ito kumpara sa PORK nya. [This is minor compared to his own pork.]
2) His staff wouldn't post anti-rally tweets. This just exposes the Presidential inner circle's way of thinking
Let's raise this discussion a bit higher, shall we? Do you expect an haciendero president to serve the people?
Critics alleged that the “presidential pork barrel” consisting of lump-sum allocations the disbursement of which is left to the sole discretion of the president and his executive department is worth more than 1.3 trillion pesos.
Interestingly, despite the Aquino regime's claiming to be on the side of the protesters some of his spokespersons contradicted this by posting tweets criticizing the protest action.
Hours before the anti-corruption rally, presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte tweeted a link of an article that described indignation over the pork barrel as a “nice but misplaced statement.”
The article said that while the pork barrel has been abused it isn't necessarily evil and concluded by calling those joining the protest action as afflicted by a “hypocrisy of indignation”:
Are we thinking the next step after, or like Juan Tamad waiting for someone to solve the problem for us? Anger is the path to the dark side, and this is why the hypocrisy of indignation must stop, and why we must shift gears and solve the problem of how government spends our monies.
Another presidential spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, also tweeted a link of the same article and quipped, “Who says blogging is passé!”
For his part, Communications undersecretary Manuel Quezon III asked the Catholic Church, which encouraged the people to attend the mass action, why it remained quiet during the incumbency of former President Gloria Arroyo.
The said officials have denied tweeting against the rally. But in the end, no amount of public relations magic can suppress public outrage over the massive plunder of people's money by government officials and their cronies while millions of Filipinos suffer from hunger, joblessness, and extreme poverty.