If Renato Corona thought it was the right time to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the public, he thought wrong. The former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court went to the Luneta last Monday to join the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Filipino citizens who had gathered to denounce the staggering corruption and theft of taxpayers’ money uncovered by the pork barrel controversy. What greeted Corona, however, were boos and catcalls from the crowd. He had to beat a hasty retreat.
Nothing illustrated the unique, perhaps game-changing nature of the so-called Million People March last Aug. 26 than Corona’s rude awakening at the Luneta. Most likely he had thought the public would by now be more sympathetic to him; a number of legislators who had voted to impeach him last year for dishonesty—like Niel Tupas of Iloilo in the House and Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada in the Senate—now also stand accused of misusing their pork barrel funds. But what he learned the hard way was this: People may be furious at the government, the politicians and the rotten political system undergirding this scandal, but that didn’t mean they would now be more forgiving of Corona’s own display of dubious conduct during his time.
Corona probably thought it was the usual political game—the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But he grossly misread the people’s anger as something simplistically partisan. True, a lot of frustration and hostility was directed at President Aquino’s administration for its failure to curb corruption and, worse, after Aquino’s address announcing the abolition of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), for the seeming disingenuousness of proposing to dress up the system by another name.
However, from the day the idea of a people’s march against corruption was hatched on social media by ordinary netizens, the calls were adamant that the rally be free of ideological or political agenda—except for the commonsensical demands that the pork barrel be abolished, the crooks who stole the money be punished and official records be opened to public scrutiny. While many were immediately taken by the idea of banding together to demand such accountability from Malacañang and Congress, quite a number were also wary of the prospect of ending up a mere backdrop to well-organized activist groups hogging the stage and the streets with their own demands.
And that’s why, on the opposite end of the spectrum, leftist groups like the Kabataan party-list and Bayan Muna were forced to issue clarifications on the eve of the march that they were setting aside their usual street tactics; no effigy-burning, for one, and they would keep to their own corner, leaving the main arena of the Quirino Grandstand free for non-allied groups and ordinary citizens. The rejection must have stung; netizens preferred to be leaderless for the march rather than turn to the activist groups that, all this time, have fought and marched and suffered for better governance.
But perhaps the public had good reason to. What has emerged from the gargantuan breadth and scope of the PDAF scandal is that barely any hands in government are left untainted by PDAF. Last year, according to the budget department records, Bayan Muna also received P124.7 million; Anakpawis, P52.3 million—and this year, P20 million; the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, P20 million for 2011, P70 million for 2012; and Kabataan, P23 million in 2011; and so on. The total released so far to the Makabayan coalition: P674.215 million.
And yet, to hear it from the representatives of these groups, it’s as if only the usual traditional politicians and their partners in crime, like Janet Lim-Napoles, had their hands inside the PDAF jar. Bayan Muna’s justification for taking the money? Because it was already in the budget. And the money went to good projects anyway. But, in the light of the widespread public disgust at the pork barrel, these groups were among the first to loudly denounce the system, which is well and good, but with their own participation in it now conveniently left out. And no wonder—if they pleaded good use of their PDAF, they’d be unwittingly aligning themselves with Malacañang, which continues to insist that something good can come out of the discredited pork barrel.
The PDAF stench has exposed not just the rotten state of government, but the hypocritical lengths to which those that fed on it—no matter the contrary rhetoric—would go to exculpate themselves. Good thing the people themselves seem to be acutely discerning of the collective guilt present in this issue.