AT least a million people were expected, but only close to 70,000 showed up at Rizal Park on Monday to demand the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or “pork barrel.”
Still, organizers hailed the event a success, saying it showed that the people are fed up with the misuse of public funds and are willing to express their disgust.
Ignoring the threat of rain, students, government employees, priests, nuns and artists shouted their demands for the pork barrel system to end.
“It is a very encouraging turnout that shows that people are united on the issue of abolishing all forms of pork, holding accountable those who are guilty of stealing to the people,” Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr. said.
Manila Archbishop Antonio Luis Cardinal Tagle urged the crowd to practice “bayanihan.”
“Sama-sama at sabay-sabay tayo na maging bayani, [Let’s all be heroes],” he said, as he called on lawmakers and government leaders to listen to the people.
The crowd peaked at 10 a.m. and dwindled to around 6,000 as the event drew to a close at 2 p.m.
Some groups stayed on for a free concert, while the more militant organizations decided to continue their protest at the Chino Roces Bridge (formerly Mendiola bridge) near Malacañang.
Park officials estimated the crowd to have reached more than 200,000, including those stayed in the park’s fringes because of muddy field and threats of a downpour.
Among the participants was UP Manila Student Council Vice Chairman Adrian Sampang, who lamented that millions of pesos in “pork” went down the drain, money which could have been used to acquire medical equipment for the Philippine General Hospital where poor people seek treatment.
“Gabi pa lang pumipila na pero 40 patients lang and tinatanggap sa charity ward. Seven out of 10 Filipinos die without having medical attention. Hindi maibigay ang budget ng PGH,” Sampang said.
He said the youth suffer from the “biggest budget cut” because the government reduced the allocation for state colleges and universities by P1.43 billion.
Father Robert Reyes, the “running priest,” said the rally is a challenge to President Benigno Aquino 3rd to prove himself by stopping a system that is prone to abuse and corruption.
“It is the victory of the Filipino people and it is a victory that should be sustained. We were able to tell PNoy that we are not pleased with the system,” he said.
Reyes also asked Janet Lim Napoles, the supposed mastermind of the pork scam, to surrender to a group that will protect her.
“It’s for the good of her soul that she comes out and to confess everything that she knows,” he added.
Thousands of police officers, including bomb disposal teams were assigned to Rizal Park but they kept a good distance from the rallyists.
Protesters were discouraged from bringing backpacks and their children.
Prosecutors against ‘pork’
Also joining the protesters were members of the Prosecutors League of the Philippines (PLP) and the Chief Prosecutors Association (Ciprosa).
According to PLP President and Northern Mindanao Regional Prosecutor Jaime Umpa, they are calling for the abolition because it was proven to be a source of corruption.
Umpa said the people should be watchful so that the PDAF will not be resurrected under a new name.
He called for the prosecution of Napoles and all lawmakers and others who “ravished” the funds of the people.
Ciprosa President and Manila Chief Prosecutor Edward Togonon said every Filipino has the right to air his sentiments in curbing corruption.
UP students marched from Quezon City Hall to Liwasang Bonifacio where they met up with other youth organizations and student groups before proceeding to Rizal Park.
Dean Roland Tolentino also led 29 faculty members, 14 staff and students of the UP College of Mass Communication in signing an official statement which demands the investigation of parties involved in the “pork barrel scam” and other issues of corruption in the Legislative.
Ateneo de Manila University students wore white shirts as a sign of support for the march.
Officers and members of the Samahan ng Manggagawa sa Paliparan ng Pilipinas (SMPP) who are employees of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) participated in the Luneta Park event.
SMPP President Ceferino Lopez said SMPP members who were off-duty joined the protest.
The SMPP has been asking for year-end bonus, equivalent to four months basic salary and allowances since 2011. The MIAA management had rejected their plea.