The recent commotion about the issue of the wastage of 10 billion pesos from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) has reached unprecedented heights. Today, the #MillionPeopleMarch attracted a number of people to hit the streets and display their disgust against the government. The president’s appeasement to the angry mass by scrapping the PDAF did not stop people to burst into hatred and negative criticism. May it be the former Countrywide Development Fund (CDF), the current PDAF or any other budget allocated for projects endorsed by representatives and senators is still, nonetheless, pork.
In an era of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the controversy about the alleged squandering of the taxpayers’ money is made more understandable by a generation that appreciates visual graphs and illustrations rather than complicated texts. Social networking and technology have made information more digestible, more understandable and more interesting. Memes about Janet Napoles allegedly involved congressmen and senators and other personalities are spread and shared like wildfire. As it spreads, the little smirks and laughter that follow with the light-hearted memes become a consciousness of the netizens. Heavy political topics made digestible makes transparency and accountability a demand by the netizens. With the invites to #MillionPeopleMarch circulating around the web, netizens have found a way to pull the virtual and the real together and move for “change”. However, there is something amiss. It is not only about transparency and accountability. It is not only about the pork.
This morning, we attended the peaceful march here in Cebu from Fuente Circle to Plaza Independencia. Before the rally, protesters wearing white waited inside a McDonald’s fast-food chain, eating breakfast and sipping coffee. Whereas those who sleep in the sidewalks outside McDonald’s were starting their morning rituals, tidying their mats and going to a broken pipe to wash their faces. We thought that this day would be the day wherein economic gaps would not matter, as it was a joined fight against the pork barrel.
However, this instead was a march by people from the upper and lower-middle class. Although, there was a number of students and others from the youth sector also present. Reportedly, “hundreds of Cebuanos” showed up to the protest, which is a far cry from the expected 8,000 that was circulated on the internet. This was said to be an impartial “rally”, something we see as irony because the issue inevitably called people to take sides. Members of the academe and religious institutions were present perhaps to show that the issue has deeply permeated into other aspects of the life of every Juan. However, it is not just about the people who wore white today. It is not only about transparency and accountability. It is not only about the pork.
Ironically, Cebu’s peace protest against the pork barrel was arranged by a group of individuals who we are going to safely assume belong in the private sector. The march was heavily guarded by the police, traffic rules were obediently watched, and there was even a marching band. It was very peaceful. Those who participated in the march quietly marched while documenting the event with their DSLRs, iPhones, Galaxy phones and others. A handful of students, faculty members and administration members of the University of San Carlos were present during the peaceful gathering. Cebu’s very own mayor, Mike Rama, was present as well. The march reached Plaza Independencia where tents and chairs were set up in the small place.
The “pep rally” style chants at Plaza Independencia were taken light-heartedly, one of the ludicrous ones being started with “Pork barrel!” and responded with “Humbaon!”, followed with laughter from protesters. Shortly after the show of weak chants, local singer, Budoy made a spectacle by holding a mini-Zumba session with three protestors leading the crowd. A protest that was made to fight the cause of transparency and justice was made into a fun event for the bourgeois.
However, the other group of protesters, mostly comprised of those in the youth sector, was made up of Anakbayan, Gabriela, Kabataan, among others. The groups, hearing that the Plaza Independencia group did not permit speeches, decided to remain at the Fuente Circle to have open discussions of their own. Once the Fuente Circle protesters arrived outside Plaza Independencia, they held a short protest outside the gates, waving their flags. The Fuente Circle protesters made it clear that simple imprisonment is not enough, which we agree to.
Abiding by the rules of the peace protest being non-partisan and non-organized groups, the said organizations folded their flags and marched inside Plaza Independencia with their banners and pig masks, silently standing a distance away from the other group of protesters. The divide was not only felt ideologically but clearly seen.
The concern of the private sector does not come in the direct concern against the marginalization of the poor, but for the concern of their tax going to waste. The Plaza Independencia protesters demanded the imprisonment of those involved in the pork, however, in our opinion, this only sweeps the dirt under the rug. A simple punishment for those in power will go nowhere near the end of corruption. Perhaps another imprisonment of a corrupt politician will just create another fanfare, and later on, will be released by virtue of clemency. Placing another hero figure or passing another bill to temporarily solve our problems will ultimately do nothing for the Philippine people. While the Plaza Independencia protesters were rallying, they vocally asserted that they are fighting for the people who walk with no slippers, children who sleep in the streets, justifying this by saying that the money spent from the pork barrel could have gone to better causes.
We beg to differ. After the rally, the protesters of the ruling class went back to their daily routines, hailing taxis, talking about heading to Starbucks, ignoring a sleeping street child and making a spectacle out of the poor.
This is an expression of public disappointment towards both the system and the reaction that begets from it.