First ScrapPork rally lessons

Katrina Stuart Santiago

Katrina Stuart Santiago

There are many things I learned in the course of helping out with an informal volunteer group that was formed for the August 26 Scrap Pork rally at the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta.

The first lesson might be that it is possible to gather people together, private citizens and celebrities and the academe, activists of every color, against pork barrel. This rally didn’t need a complex message, as it did have the simplest, most unifying message of all. Peachy Bretaña had said in one of the meetings less than a week before the rally: what brings us together is that very thin line that is abolish all pork, and investigate and hold all those guilty accountable. I think it is the thinnest of lines. But that might be enough.

The contingent lesson to that of course, is that we can agree on those two things, and then believe differently about what to do with the pork funds. As a group, we all agreed that we weren’t discussing solutions. We were agreeing that the goal was to gather as many Filipinos in Manila and in simultaneous events elsewhere, to show government that we stand united against all pork barrel and that we demand an investigation of how these funds have been spent so far.

I believe that no matter the number of people that gathered at the Quirino Grandstand, this goal was achieved by the first ScrapPork rally.

Which brings me to lesson number two: of course we could’ve done it better. There is no way really to measure the number of people that went to this rally because many arrived and left early, many arrived late, and even more stayed beyond the Quirino Grandstand grounds. I’d like to think that this was a measure of the kind of no-organizers rally that this was, where we had hoped that groups would come and bring their own sound systems and programs that would gather people around different platforms. We had hoped it possible that people be given the various perspectives about the pork barrel via these different programs.

But few groups came with their own sound system and program, and it was difficult to encourage people to walk around the Quirino Grandstand because the Burnham Greens was wet and muddy. Granted that many hung around, sat where they were allowed at the cemented areas to Roxas Boulevard to the Luneta itself, and there were some who went to the Manila Hotel either for the ongoing pork barrel forum there (not connected at all to the ScrapPork rally) or just to make their presence felt albeit even if away from the rally.

I am personally thankful for Bayan and its member-orgs’ sound system and program opposite the Quirino Grandstand. I imagine—and my instagram and facebook feeds prove—that they were the ones who kept many individuals and smaller groups entertained, complete with photo ops with celebrities and paper mache pig heads.

Meanwhile, over at the tent that functioned as “command center” we did what we could. At some point we came up with a program for those who were gravitating towards and looking to the tent for direction. Suffice it to say that we only conceded to that program after we would get irate participants, asking what it was they were supposed to be doing, and asking that they be allowed to use that microphone and speak.

It was a lesson in refusing to be called “organizer” of an event, and yet wanting to make sure that there is a place for people to go for a petition or first aid, or to volunteer, wanting to make sure that reminders and announcements are made using a sound system that could be heard across the Quirino Grandstand. Of course the other problem was that the sound could barely be heard halfway through that field, and we failed to imagine how having a microphone will always mean people waiting for a program.

But also it was a lesson in being too careful not to turn off people. And even as we tried, many didn’t go to this rally either because they didn’t understand who was organizing it and issuing statements, or because they couldn’t understand the presence of the Left organizations.

Which really is lesson number three here. An event with no list of named organizers and individuals is at the mercy of public perception. I still personally think that there should’ve been a list of names of individuals and organizations that were part of discussions and meetings for the August 26 ScrapPork rally. I think this would’ve dealt with the stereotyping and prejudice against the Leftist organizations, which were cooperating —and in the end absolutely cooperative—throughout the planning and actual rally at Quirino Grandstand.

All the talk about effigies (not true, effigies are huge and are to be burned, paper mache pig heads are not that), about the Left organizations hijacking the event, were unfounded and mostly borne of the lack of information about who was talking for the first ScrapPork rally and why. All the fears of about having these organized groups there were borne of a bias against the Left that went on overdrive given media coverage and social media opinion. It was something I thought could’ve been controlled to some extent.

Including the idea that the August 26 ScrapPork rally was a headless chicken. It wasn’t headless, believe me. And even as there were a couple of hours on Monday that the “command center” was barely in command, I do think that this is what democracy looks like, and what it looks like when we refuse to have a leader. Discussions take time; getting over our own individual fears, perceptions, biases against or for others takes even more time, if not more heated discussions.

But it was important to see this through to the end that is August 26, because it was an interesting test of very diverse wills that was still able to gather people in one place, on one National Heroes Day. I said this at the meetings, and I say it again: that rally was a chance at showing people that there is nothing wrong with engaging the Left in a cause that they have taken on far longer than we all have. Inday Varona of, also one of many individuals who were part of those meetings for August 26 says it well: “…but if there’s anything the MillionPeopleMarch rammed home, it’s that it’s time to show the fearful and suspicious that there is merit in working with organized forces.””

I now personally call for a series of rallies that will be headed by various sectors and individuals every time, rallies that might still gather the people who went to the Quirino Grandstand on August 26, rallies that will work on growing that number of people who now demand accountability for all pork barrel funds used questionably, and even better, who want to engage in a discussion about the national budget.

The petition that was kicked off yesterday continues online. I believe ScrapPork rallies should, too. Every kind of rally we can possibly imagine, until those two demands of abolish pork, and investigate and hold the guilty accountable are met.

That goes for all of PNoy’s unaccounted pork, under its various names.


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