Thousands join Million People March vs pork
MANILA - Thousands gathered on Monday in what has been dubbed as the "Million People March" to Rizal Park in Manila. Their battle cry: abolish the pork barrel and run after individuals who stole public funds.
Several groups gave conflicting numbers on the size of the crowd. The National Capital Region Police Office estimated the crowd size at 60,000 while the Manila Police District pegged the crowd at 75,000 at its height, which went down to 35,000 by noon.
The Manila Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office pegged it at 350,000, which is a far cry from the million-strong turnout organizers had hoped would attend.
Participants from different walks of life arrived as early as 7 a.m. to attend the protest. Some of them were from militant groups, schools and different organizations.
Many were groups of families and friends, not affiliated with any activist organization, denouncing the misuse of pork barrel.
Among the high-profile personalities were Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, former Chief Justice Renato Corona who was booed by the crowd, and celebrities like Juana Change, Jim Paredes, Noel Trinidad and Robin Padilla.
Lawyer Eirene Aguila described the mood in Luneta as jovial, saying protesters ignored the light drizzle and muddy field to show a united front against the pork barrel scam.
"It's very alive. People from all walks of life. While it's starting to drizzle and it's really quite muddy people haven't left," she said Monday morning.
Rob Go, a teacher, likened the rally to the EDSA Dos revolt that toppled then President Joseph Estrada.
"Napakaraming taong nandito ngayon. Ngayon lang ulit nagkaroon ng ganitong kadaming tao na nagtipon tipon. The last time was in EDSA Dos in 2001," Go, a teaching associate at the University of the Philippines political science department, said.
Go said Monday's protest sends a clear message to Malacañang that the public will not tolerate corruption.
"Seryoso ang taumbayan. We can see that the number of people is evidence that the people are not apathetic. They are aware of the problem and they are willing to do their share, their part in order to ensure good governance and accountability," he told ANC.
Similar protests were also held in several provinces and even some cities in the US.
Tip of the iceberg
In an interview, economist and former NEDA secretary general Solita Monsod believes the P10 billion pork barrel scam is just the tip of the iceberg of a wide and massive malversation of public funds.
Monsod, who also attended the Million People March in Luneta, said out of the more than P100 billion in public funds, the Commission on Audit was only able to audit P39 billion due to the unavailability of documents.
She said the rich and poor have a stake in the issue because everyone pays taxes in one way or the other.
"Show your anger, rich or poor. Don't say it's not my business dahil lahat tayo dinadaya, binababoy, di na pwede yun!" Monsod said.
Monsod said the people should not only be angry at businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, assuming the allegations are true.
"Bakit di tayo nagagalit sa mga mambabatas? O sa government agency na nagrelease ng pondo? Where does the responsibility lie? Do you think the NGO would have succeeded without the imprimatur of these officials? Of course not," she said.
Prof. Prospero de Vera of the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance said the public's agitation seems to oversimplify the issue of discretion given to public officials in the use of public money.
While abolishing the pork funds may be a necessary route to ending the corruption in government, this should not have been the first step, he said.
“The abolition of the pork is the last step, not the first. The danger of making it first, we might not be able to look at the whole extent of the discretion,” De Vera said.
He noted all branches of government – the executive (including the Cabinet secretaries), the legislative and even the judiciary – all have discretionary funds.
“My worry is if we get agitated and obsessed with the discretion given to legislators, we may be missing the bigger picture.”
Former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Cayetano Paderanga said while he condemns the misuse of funds, pork should not be abolished all together.
Paderanga said he wants to reform the pork barrel allocation with all transparency and accountability enforced.
He said local concerns may be drowned out in the national budgeting process. He said there should really be extra funds alloted for local programs and concerns but persons or officials handling it must be accountable.
Meanwhile, whistle-blowers in the pork barrel controversy wept upon seeing the public's response to calls for the abolition of the pork barrel system.
Gertrudes Luy, mother of pork scam whistleblower Benhur Luy, said their group is overwhelmed by the outpouring of support to their cause.
"Nagpapasalamat kami na maraming sumuporta sa amin dito. Yung lumabas na yung pork barrel. Buong buo kaming nagpapasalamt sa kanila," he said.
Another whistleblower said the large turnout has given their group strength.
The whistleblowers said the massive rally at Luneta has given them more courage to continue their fight against businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, whom they accuse of stealing billions of pesos from pork barrel funds.
Their lawyer, Attorney Levito Baligod, is likewise touched by the sense of unity among the people.