Friday, April 20, 2018
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At Large

Counting the bodies

For days, even weeks after this paper first came out with reports on the “pork barrel scam,” senators and congressmen seemed inclined to ignore the issue. Even Malacañang seemed strangely silent, issuing no reactions nor statements, save for the President’s opinion that he still believed in the PDAF.

What a long, twisted road it’s been, then, from legislators’ declarations that they saw no need to investigate the misuse of discretionary funds by their own colleagues, to P-Noy’s own pronouncement Friday that “it’s time we abolished the PDAF,” the official, more politically correct term for the pork barrel.

Standing behind P-Noy as he made his pronouncement were the leaders of both houses of Congress: Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte. Both seemed to be struggling to keep straight faces, devoid of any expression though goodness knows what must have been racing through their minds. Undoubtedly, foremost among their worries must have been how the members of their chambers would react to this development, since “pork” has been one incentive which has been wielded down through the years to keep legislators in line.


Well, at this point, I doubt if any legislator would be so bold as to defend the practice of “pork.” Indeed, the common attitude seems to be to duck and cover, letting P-Noy and his spokespeople take the flak.

Almost forgotten, though not entirely, is the figure who, when the controversy first erupted, became the “face” of pork. Janet Lim-Napoles has since kept her silence and herself scarce ever since a warrant of arrest was issued against her, though this was in connection with a kidnapping case filed against her by a former employee. The whole controversy blew up when this former employee—along with other whistle-blowers—revealed Napoles’ alleged main source of income: the fraudulent use of pork barrel funds with the connivance of legislators and “insiders” in the concerned agencies.

* * *

As I write this, news reports say the “Million People March” at the Luneta is dispersing, with most participants, who gathered in front of the Grandstand as early as 7 a.m. walking away and making their way home. Some groups, though, were reported to be heading on to Mendiola, at the very doorstep of Malacañang as it were. But this has been done so often, it has become almost routine. Elsewhere, in Cebu, Davao and other urban centers, irate citizens had likewise gathered and denounced the pork barrel system, calling for the proper accounting and use of public funds.

The latest police estimates that I heard were about 100,000 protesters showing up, including those outside Manila. This is certainly a far cry from a million, although if one relied only on social media one would think such was the outrage generated by the pork scandal that a crowd of a million would have been easy to gather.

There are several explanations that come to mind. One is that anger, indignation, irritation and scandal don’t always translate into action. And the very nature of social media—posting reactions under the mantle of anonymity in the “safe” company of the like-minded—gives one the feeling that by venting one had already “done” something.

* * *

This likewise shows the still-limited reach of the new media in these parts, which still has a “low penetration” rate compared with the situation in more developed countries. True, other media-print, radio and TV-aired news about the rally and featured individuals who, almost unwittingly, had issued the call to gather and collectively express their anger at such wasteful use of public money.


But that may have been one problem. The effort was deliberately “disorganized.” There was no central planning or logistics committee, not even, at least from my impression of it, a unified program with the usual lineup of agitators, speakers and organized boosters. True, protest groups showed up, as did a sprinkling of activists and civil society leaders. But it had been previously described as a “picnic” and that’s what indeed it looked like.

I understand this was part of the design. The netizens who first issued the call for protest didn’t want it to be “hijacked” by the usual suspects, such as leftist groups adept at staging public protests and marshalling warm bodies. Yesterday’s protest seemed more like a community gathering of diverse personalities, expressing their exasperation at the way things are but with no end-goal in mind.

* * *

Still, organizers of public gatherings, say concerts or promotional runs, would be ecstatic to gather the number of people who trooped to Luneta Monday morning, and the groups that staged their own protests around the country. “Million People” may have been more of a slogan and sales pitch than a reality, but the number that showed up is still impressive.

And I liked that the gathering resembled more of a flash mob than an organized protest, very much in the spirit of this generation of fragmented and free-thinking individuals. If the leadership and organization of the Monday exercise had been turned over to, say, a leftist organization or a political party, it would have lost much of its power and appeal, its sincerity and its freshness. In fact, the lack of organized expressions of anger seemed to me evidence of the depth of anger among “ordinary” Filipinos, who sacrificed the leisure of a public holiday to lend their warm bodies to this collective expression of outrage.

So I suggest that government officials, especially representatives and senators, not take the numbers at the Luneta and elsewhere as evidence of the lack of support the issue of “pork” has generated. The disgust and the anger are there, just below the surface.

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TAGS: ‘million people march’ rally, column, corruption, pork barrel scam, Rina Jimenez-David
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