Pinoy Kasi

Change, please

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What now, my older and more cynical relatives ask, with Luneta over.

It’s hard to say, mainly because the ongoing anti-pork barrel campaign has been so similar to recent storms: slow-moving and almost unpredictable, yet protracted and powerful.  We saw, too, two typhoons that didn’t quite make landfall in the Philippines but seemed to have conspired with the habagat, the southwest monsoon, to bring torrential rains.

Look now at the parallels to current national politics. The protest actions have been diffused, with no real “eye of the storm” in the sense of any one group dominating.  The mobilization on Sunday showed this, bringing out different political groups from the left to the center, priests (and cardinals), sisters, seminarians, as well as non-aligned ones like the San Juan Greenhills Muslim Traders Association.

The turnout at Luneta was moderate but it was not small either, especially when you factor in the inclement weather.  Again using the storms as a metaphor, we have to remember too the crowds at Luneta only represent the visible storm.  Many more participated in their homes and on the Internet in a kind of political habagat.

The main “storm” in Luneta wasn’t marked by the usual indignation you find in protest rallies. Noisy yes, but more in the sense of being festive with singing and dancing.  The rage was expressed more through postings on the Internet.  Anger was palpable there in the way people talked about how hard life is, not just for the poor but for the middle classes, government and private sector employees, while our coffers were being plundered via the pork barrel.  The anger is not just directed against Janet Lim-Napoles and her US-based daughter Jeane with a penchant for ostentatiously obscene displays of wealth, but also against the legislators, many of whom are suspected now to have profited as well from the kickbacks.

Trends

Four trends are clear in the way the anti-pork movement, and broader politics, is developing.

First, this is a nationwide movement.  The focus of media coverage was on Luneta and Manila, which tends to devalue efforts in other major urban centers.  We have to remember that people are hurting too outside of Manila, especially since some of the worst cases of plunder were in provinces and cities grappling with grinding poverty.

Second, we’re actually seeing several “movements,” with no clear core yet.  The spontaneity can be healthy, but difficult to sustain in the long run.  On the other hand, trying to get a core group together can be difficult, given the way our politics has been so polarized by ideologies and personalities.

Third, the target of the protest movement or movements seems to be moving from pork barrel to corruption. I sense that Filipinos are beginning to see the problem not just in terms of individuals’ greed but of a catastrophic illness affecting the entire body politic.  There is more talk now against patronage politics, with people recognizing the irony of the pork barrel funds, politicians and characters like Napoles raiding public coffers for personal profit, while doling out crumbs to the poor and expecting the taxpayers to be grateful for the loose change.

I actually see difficulties in the transition from an anti-pork movement to one against patronage politics.  On the radio I hear commentators, and listeners calling in, to defend the pork barrel as a necessary evil, a way to help the poor.  The blinders are there and I worry that in the end, we will see the movement losing steam because Filipinos are still bound by feudal loyalties.

Finally, whatever the outcome of this anti-pork movement, I do see a turning point in our politics mainly because we’re seeing the growing use of a new political arena: the Internet and social media.  The title for my column takes off from a website called change.org/ph, where citizens can initiate petitions directed mainly to politicians on specific issues. “Change.org” is actually global, with country-specific sites, the local one being managed by Inday Varona.

The Internet can be as noisy and heated as the parliament of the streets but petitions on “change.org” indicate a more civil approach, thus my “change, please” title, but said with firmness and a sense of urgency.  The petitions are terse and to the point, zeroing in on a problem and proposing a solution.  They are more polite versions of the manifestos of the marital law era, mimeographed (older readers, please explain to the young ones) on newsprint and distributed through the underground.  Today we have a potential of reaching thousands of people through the Internet, with more sophisticated layouts and colored photographs to make a point.

The use of petitions on “change.org.ph” is still limited to the chattering classes, but the issues there are picked up by other Internet sites and by radio, television and print media.

Social observatory

I also consider this site to be a useful “social observatory,” telling us about what issues people (or at least of a small but influential middle class) care about. Let’s rank the petitions by the number of signatories:

Predictably, a call to the Ombudsman to conduct an impartial investigation of the grave misuse of public funds is at the top of the list with 16,302 signatories.  This is followed by a call for the Luneta march, together with demands to probe and punish abusers of pork, with 10,343 signatories.

A petition to President Aquino, “Stop the Tampakan Mining Project” calls for a suspension of open-pit mining in Mindanao and comes in third with 9,732 signatories.  This is followed by a petition to Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan with 6,535 signatories to keep Burnham Park green and free of commercialization.  Another environmentally oriented petition with 6,399 signatories is addressed to the Department of Public Works and to Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada not to cut down 400 trees to build an underpass on España.

A petition to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority to scrap a proposed two-day number coding system for vehicles got 5,357 signatories, followed closely by a call, signed by 5,262 people, calling on the President to require government officials to take public transport at least once a month.

There were many other petitions, including variations on the anti-pork theme.  It’s interesting that petitions initiated by individuals seem to get more signatories.  One anti-pork petition initiated by Kapatiran Party only had 199 signatories—fewer than the 381 who call on Jollibee to add more sauce and hotdogs (presumably pork?) to their spaghetti.

I know, the sauce and hotdogs petition seems trivial but that’s the way the Internet social media operates.  Politics is, after all, a matter of negotiations and in the months ahead, we will see more innovative, and vigorous, turns in our political tournaments.

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  • josh_alexei

    What I observe Mr. Tan is that the Filipinos in their own country are not persistent in their demands to their public officials and thus the can be pacified at the height of their emotional upheaval and then the issue or issues will just be gently fading away. In Contrast, the Public and the Media in many other Parts will not stop the “noise” until their public officials or governments ACT, and act as what they have demanded or even go beyond it. I can give you one very good example as it is happening now. A teenager was shot and killed by a Police Officer inside an empty Streetcar where they have a confrontation before the episode. The Public demanded that the event be thoroughly investigated as their was no Justification for the shooting even as the teenager, a mentally disturbed was wielding a small knife and refused order to drop it. the civilian Agency mandated to Investigate Police act that resulted in serious injury or fatality concluded its investigation and Charged the Subject OFFICER with Second Degree Murder, The Chief of Police called upon a retired Justice to conduct a Review of the Force use of Force procedure and the Province Ministry of Public safety was also in the picture and just announced measures to improve the Process…that is how we address issues that the public demand.

  • WeAry_Bat

    When I signed the Ombudsman petition, which begins with the tragedy of Esperat, there were about 3,000 signatures.

    There are now 16,000 signatures, which is about more than two hundred per day sign in. Alas, there are no additional metrics to see if the figure is accelerating, decelerating, or constant.

    I hope it is not too much to hope it reaches 500,000…or millions.

    EDIT:

    I saw an FB meme…In 1982, Singapore had 142 corrupt politicians arrested in 1 day. Today, only 1% of Singapore is poor.

  • http://jaoromero.com/ Jao Romero

    as the taxes get heavier, and as people realize the huge burden they are carrying just from supporting government, many more will start demanding accountability from government.

    years ago, i read the phrase “no taxation without representation.” it’s the first thing citizens must realize when they agree to support a government. no government has a right to tax anyone unless they are representing the taxpayers.

    with the passage of VAT and other forms of tax that cannot be avoided, it’s hard for the citizens to perform a tax revolt. no matter what we do, virtually everyone of us is a taxpayer. so until everyone realizes this, the anger at the misuse of public funds will continue to be less than what it really should be.

    people will say “ok lang, di naman ako nagbabayad ng tax.”

    income tax siguro hindi, pero kahit saan ka magtago, kahit anong gawin mo, nagbabayad ka ng tax. tiningnan mo na ba ang resibo mo sa Jolibee? ang resibo mo sa grocery? siguro kung mare-realize lang ng mga tao kung gano kabigat ang patong ng VAT, magwawala sila sa galit. lahat halos ng gastusin ng mamayang Pilipino ay may VAT. kung gumagastos ka pa sa gasolina, lalo na. dapat nagmumura ka na sa galit sa anumang insidente ng korapsyon sa gobyerno.

    hindi pa dito kasali ang kung ano-anong paraang naimbento ng gobyerno para pigain pa tayong mamamayan ng ating pera. taunang registration ng sasakyan, renewal ng lisensya, mga overpriced na dokumento ng gobyerno – sa napakaraming binabayad natin, sa napakabigat na pasan natin, deserving ba tayong magkaroon ng maayos na serbisyo? pagpila na lang ultimo sa mga tanggapan ng gobyerno parang impyerno na, pano pa kaya un mga serbisyo nila?

    hindi kasi to nare-realize ng ordinaryong mamamayan. akala nila normal lang na pigain ng gobyerno ng walang nakukuhang kapalit. ikaw na nagbabayad sa SSS, sisigawan ka pa ng gwadya don. tama ba yon? sana ma-realize nyo na tayo ang nagpapasweldo sa mga damuhong syang nagpapahirap sa atin. pag tumigil tayong magbayad, mamamatay sila.

    napakalayo pa ng lalakbayin para tuluyang magising ang sambayanan.

  • leodegardompruna

    What is important is the convergence into one ideal of the various movements. God bless the Philippines.

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