On the day a million citizens were supposed to gather at Rizal Park to protest the pork barrel scam, less than 6,000 attended, to the great disappointment of the anti-pork leaders, mostly poseurs and hypocrites who have seized on the anti-pork rage for self-aggrandizement. And what a letdown it was. Days before the August 25 protest, these leaders primed themselves up for stellar roles at the Park and the attendant media coverage, angling for another 15 minutes of fame.
The crowds did not come. The media coverage did not rise to their expectation. Worse, some media outlets even headlined their stories with the thinning and less-animated protest crowd. The 15 minutes of fame sought turned into a day-long frustration for the poseurs.
But this was the ultimate putdown. On the day of the protest, there were queues at the Marcos Museum in Ilocos Norte, where the paying crowds (there is an entrance fee) packed the publicly displayed, but well-preserved corpse of Mr. Marcos. The bastion of the Marcoses so teemed with visitors that Fort Ilocandia, with room rates of up to P9,000 per night, had admission desks that got drained and exasperated from telling visitors “ No rooms available.” The less rated hotels in and around the area had 100 percent occupancy rates.
This message was eminently delivered. People (mostly from the NCR) would rather view the embalmed body of a ruthless despot whose rule had snuffed out thousands of young lives and ruined a nation than march into a citizens gathering of—supposedly – the highest, noblest purpose.
As if this thing was on the minds of most citizens that day, the National Heroes Day: How can we escape from the phony angst of the do-gooders at the Park? They decided to take a trip to the turf of a late despot in far Ilocos Norte than gather at the Park. The fact that Marcos Junior, now a senator, has been named as one of the legislators who delivered tens of millions of pesos to the phony NGOs of Janet Napoles added insult to that supreme irony.
Those two optics on National Heroes Day—thinning anti-pork protests and queues at the Marcos tomb—aptly summed up the tragedy of our sad sack of a nation.
Why has the initial fire of the protest reduced to the size of dying embers? In the ideal world, fatigue should not set in. The cause against the pork barrel scam is a legitimate, worthy one. Never in our legislative history has the use of pork reached that height of brazenness and corruption. Pork comes with sleaze, that was accepted. But there was always a delivery against the release of pork, whether it was a substandard infrastructure road or bridge, or overpriced farm machineries.
An outright SARO for Cash exchange was not practiced. So when SAROs were exchanged for duffels bags of cash, the exchange done by women in Escada outfits and Hermes bags, the nation was right to revolt—and sustain that revolt over the most brazen act of corruption in our legislative history was deemed as a moral imperative.
Why then are the protests losing fire and steam? There are many answers and we can name some.
One is the overreach by the Commission on Audit (COA).
The current COA leadership now appears to have morphed into the anti-government wing of the Republican Party, the Rand Pauls and Paul Ryans of the world. The government has always been a wasteful and corrupt intruder into activities better done by private business. A good government is a government that barely functions at all, or a government cut down to the size of a chicken nugget.
Every activity of government, from beefing up the obsolete weather forecasting infrastructure and systems, to feeding the malnourished children of the country, has been tainted by monkey business and sleaze. Nothing that the government does, in the view of the COA, is unblemished by dirty hands.
The truth is legislators (senators and congressmen) will monkey around with most pork barrel activities but not with one thing—feeding malnourished children. There are eight to nine million children of school age that are being wasted by malnutrition. And legislators, no matter how corrupt they are, always made it a point to use every peso of the pork allotted for child feeding, for child feeding, the commissions forfeited. The incentive to steal from child feeding funds was also reined in by one thing—the returns, if ever, were penny ante.
Or, how can massive irregularities attend the purchase of facilities for weather forecasting?
Second reason is the phoniness of the publicity-starved anti-pork protest leaders also turn many decent citizens off. Third reason is the incessant but silent probe of the Ombudsman staff on the legislators named in the COA special audit report. This also guarantees that those who used pork to enrich themselves will be indicted. And those who used pork for the broader good will have their names cleared.
The fourth reason is the most compelling and current. Right now, most citizens feel that the public outrage should be directed at attempts to rewrite the constitution to extend the term of the president and to sneak in some odious economic provisions.
This column was originally titled “ Want a million man march? Stage a charter change protest. ”
Very true. A protest against the planned charter change would draw in people from all walks of life and of various political and religious persuasions. Stage it and they will come.