by Joy Icayan
It’s a rainy morning in Manila, where sixty thousand people have converged in Luneta Park to protest against the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), regular allocations to legislators amounting to millions in pesos. The protest, dubbed the Million People March is happening around the country with key rallies in all three major islands. It has materialized following a series of events. Whistleblowers surfaced two months ago accusing a certain Janet Napoles of spearheading the transfer of PDAF money (amounting to P10 billion pesos) over the course of many years towards fake NGOs and fake projects. A friend of Janet Napoles’ daughter leaked pictures of her Instagram account showcasing her lavish lifestyle: luxury cars, bags, shopping trips. Then just a week ago, the country was besieged by monsoon rains which caused intense flooding in the metro and nearby provinces. As always when this happens, residents blamed politicians for lack of flood control mechanisms. But this time, the anger had a new dimension to it – corruption, through the misuse of taxpayers’ money (PDAF) or more commonly called pork barrel, had been allocated not for public projects but to support the lives of the few rich.
Perhaps like any colonialized developing country, the Philippines’ history has been one of protests. From the Spanish colonization, to the American and the Japanese to the protests against our own governments, protests took on a form of slow quiet simmering before finally coming to the fore. During the declaration of Martial Law and its human rights violations, activists trooped to the streets, denouncing the government. The deaths and disappearances of many activists silenced many. It was the death of popular opposition leader Benigno Aquino that rallied everyone to go to EDSA to remove the current dictator in what would be termed People Power 1. They harnessed the same People Power to remove President Joseph Estrada, accused of plunder in 2001.
The youth have often been accused of being the Facebook generation. But this protest has been mostly powered by young netizens, sharing their articles, pictures, collective outrage. Perhaps most striking is this protest’s lack of one central organization backing it up. Unlike rallies where organizers are either one of two major leftist groups, the Million People March is backed by ordinary taxpayers – students, families carrying their children and even pets. They are sustained by collective stories: the call center agent’s massive tax deductions, the NBI agent who cried upon first hearing the amount of money stolen, the cliché’s of poverty we all touch base with now and then: bureaucratic mess, deprivations of rights, so on and so forth. They decide who to welcome and who to deride, and one ex official accused of corruption was booed until he left.
But perhaps the responsibility does not end with rallies or with speaking up, but in ensuring an end to what is being fought against. It has been constantly told that the Filipinos are a forgetful, forgiving nation, with the leaders we elected back in office, back to their luxurious lives. Much is to be said about Catholic upbringings, or the wounds of history, and that adrenaline can only be sustained for so long. But many are hopeful, or tired. In this country, there is little difference between those words.
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Update: as of this writing, there are now 300,000 people in Luneta Park
Photos by Juliet Javellana