The number of rallyists was sparse but fervor was high as thousands of people gathered at the Rizal Park (Luneta) in Manila on Monday to seek an end to all forms of pork barrel, which the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) described as “a reprehensible form of thievery.”
Members of religious, civic, youth and militant groups were one in saying that the pork barrel system should not continue as they joined a nationwide campaign that seeks to gather six million signatures to be used for a People’s Initiative against pork. Monday’s gathering came a year after the so-called Million People March held on August 26, 2013, a series of protests for the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or the pork barrel of lawmakers.
Fr. Rex Reyes, the general secretary of the NCCP, called on the people to stop President Benigno Aquino 3rd from continuing his wrongful acts and abusing the democratic system of government.
“Ang illegal na pondo na nasa kamay ng ating Pangulo ay hindi lamang isang karumal-dumal na porma ng pagnanakaw at paglalapastangan sa mga taong kaniyang pinangakuang paglingkuran. Ito ay paglapastangan sa sistema ng pamahalaang demokratiko sa pamamagitan ng ganitong kalakaran ay yumayabong ang pagtatangkilik sa personal na kapakanan ng mga politiko at napapanatili ang abusadong kapangyrihan ng mga dynasty [The illegal funds in the hands of our President are not only a reprehensible form of thievery and an injustice to the people he promised to serve.
This is a travesty of the democratic system because through this scheme, the personal interests of politicians are sustained and the abusive powers of dynasties are further entrenched],” he said.
The protesters noted that Monday’s rally showed the people’s dwindling trust in the Aquino administration and in Congress.
“President Aquino has provided the basis for the people to unite and exercise their sovereign power. The sign-up is itself a form of protest, a stinging indictment of the failure of the Aquino regime and the administration-dominated Congress to abolish the corrupt pork barrel system. The rally is a call for accountability in the pork scam as well as an expression of opposition to amend the Charter and perpetuate Aquino in power,” Renato Reyes Jr., Bayan secretary general, said.
Anakbayan, meanwhile, said that contrary to Malacanang’s claim that the national budget has been rid of pork barrel, the illegal system continues.
“One year has passed since the last Million People March, and until today pork schemes still exist under the corrupt administration of [Aquino]. The administration sustained the pork schemes from the presidential level to the congressional level,” Vencer Crisostomo, Anakbayan national chairman, noted.
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) President, Marc Lino Abila, said the Luneta rally showed that Filipinos no longer trust the legislative branch.
“This action is an immense source of shame for Congress. The people do not consider them credible enough to cast reforms and end corruption. Thus, the confidence of the people in the government is lost. They have fully decided to take reform in their collective mandate, a resort that emphasizes Congress’ incapacity,” Abila added.
Youth Act Now said it is proper for the people “to fight an evil system.”
“Today, as we respond to the call of the times, we can say that we are all heroes. We are a nation of heroes, resilient and staunch in the face of adversity, ready to fight against the evil that is the pork barrel system even if it means going against the current and confronting the formidable status quo,” Youth Act Now spokesman Victor Villanueva said.
“Any ordinary citizen, youth or student can be a hero by deciding to act at a time of great upheaval. Today, we are not only commemorating our fallen heroes, we are all heroes in our own right, in our own little way,” he added.
Organizers admitted that there were fewer participants in Monday’s rally compared to the People’s March last year. Observers estimated that more than 20,000 people joined the event.
Government employees joined members of more than 50 groups who took part in the launch of “Stand Up! Sign Up! Against All Pork!”
Retired Bishop Teodoro Bacani, several priests, seminarians and nuns also attended.
The program started with a concelebrated Mass with Fr. Wilfredo Dula of the Missionaries of Jesus as main celebrant.
The Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines was one of the major organizers. The main organizer was the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), which includes Christian churches as members.
Bacani said volunteers will gather signatures in all Catholic churches, especially during Sundays to speed up the collection of six million signatures needed to comply with the three percent of the total number of voters in each legislative district all over the country.
Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said most of those who attended the rally gave Aquino a zero approval rating.
“Maraming tao ang hindi natutuwa at mukhang pababa ng pababa ang rating ng Pangulo [Many people are unhappy and it looks like the rating of the President is getting lower and lower]. I hope these figures are wrong and I assume that they are just saying what is in their heart. I take this fight seriously,” Cruz said.
He added that not only bishops, priests and nuns are dismayed but also members of the Church.
“Marami na ring galit, marami na ang mainit ang ulo, hindi ko alam kung ano ang gagawin pero may mga grupo na talagang gusto nang kumilos, ewan ko kung kailan at kung saan pupunta iyon [Many are also angry, many are losing their temper, I don’t know what to do but there are groups who want to take action, I don’t know when and where that move will lead to],” Cruz said.
Sister John Manansan, the spokesperson for the People’s Initiative Against Pork Barrel Movement, gave Aquino a grade of five.
“He did things, I know there is something in the economy [that was the reason why we drew the]interest of investors. I will give any person what is due to him. Marami naman siyang nagawa [He has done a lot],” she said
She, however, noted that there are some decisions that the President made that are not worth supporting, one of which is the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle thanked those who joined the signature campaign for a People’s Initiative (PI).
Tagle vowed to continue praying for the public and for peace.
“Thank you for making democracy alive and active. Thank you for advancing decency in public life. Thank you for giving voice to countless victims of corruption especially the poor and the marginalized,” the cardinal said.
“I pray that the people of Congress would help construct a culture of integrity and living service in our families, neighborhood, schools, offices, businesses, military, government, Churches and consciences.
Be assured of my prayers for you and our country,” he added.
Celebrities who performed during the Luneta rally included Mae Paner, also known as Juana Change, and the band groups Kamikaze and the Jerks.
The protest rally ended at noon but militant groups like Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, #abolishpork movement, Scrap Pork Network, Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, Concerned Citizens Movement, Youth ACT Now!, BABALA, Church People’s Against Pork Barrel marched to Mendiola near Malacañang where they ended their protest.
Simultaneous protests were also held in Hong Kong and Australia, according to Bayan.