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Reporters’ Notebook: ‘No picnic, I am fuming mad’

By , , , Erika Sauler

MESSAGE TO SENATORS Muslim women join the protest in Manila against the pork barrel of legislators. ARNOLD ALMACEN

Many wore masks, T-shirts and hats printed with a pig’s head.

Slogans on white shirts—the chosen color of the massive gathering to show that participants do not belong to any political party or ideology—proclaimed succinctly why they had come to Rizal Park on Monday: Abolish the lawmakers’ pork barrel—lump sum allocations meant to ease rural poverty but which allegedly ended up in kickbacks.

“Makibaka, huwag magbaboy” resounded to the beating of drums, hoots and whistles.

It echoed the cry in protests during the martial law years: Makibaka, huwag matakot. Fight, be not afraid. This time, it was fight, do not be a swine.

They strummed guitars, staged entertainment skits in small groups, sang songs or hymns under overcast skies and occasional light showers.

“This is not just a picnic. I am here to tell this government that I am fuming mad,” said Cheryl Ilagan, 59, a vacationing Filipino-American.

She said she could have easily ignored the news shaking the Philippines. “I feel pity for our fellow Filipinos. This can’t go on.”

Where do taxes go?

Mansor Mama-o loathed the idea that as a government dentist for 25 years, he only managed to make both ends meet while politicians had considerably fattened their bank accounts.

“Our taxes don’t go to where it should go. For the longest time, we had not felt it,” Mama-o said.

Couple Chie and William Jimenez, of San Andres Bukid in Manila, joined the rally despite suffering from flooding last week.

“We all know that corruption in the government is happening. But we are only awakened recently because of the concrete evidence we see in the news. We realized there are so many people waiting to act,” William said.

Groups also came with their colorful banners and flags but the marchers present were mostly not organized, joined by their families and friends, carrying umbrellas and plastic raincoats.

Hernesto Vingona, 46, who took a jeepney from San Mateo town, Rizal province, said that as a sari-sari store owner, he worked so hard to send his children to school, but managed to diligently pay his taxes every year. “We are the ones suffering while they are having a good life.”

Stop paying taxes

Ruben del Rosario, 72, a lawyer who biked his way from Antipolo City, Rizal province, along with his friends, said he would keep on joining rallies until genuine reforms were enforced.

Sharon Ambas, a soundtrack producer, said: “Why not compel the politicians to send their children to public schools? I’m sure they would not let the education system rot.”

Regie Ambas, a sound engineer, suggested to the netizens that organized Monday’s affair through social media that they should also post the pictures of the luxury vehicles and property of the politicians.

Priests and nuns mingled with the crowd—largely middle class, if a bit more sedate with a good sprinkling of academics—that thronged Rizal Park.

There were Franciscans in brown frocks with a small icon of St. Francis of Assisi; diocesans in white cossacks walking in the mud; Dominicans at the head of several thousand marching students; about a dozen priests concelebrating a Mass in a quiet section of the park, joined by nuns in their habits under red tents of the Catholic charity Caritas pelted by intermittent light showers.

Take a leaf from Benedict

“Running priest” Robert Reyes said President Aquino and the lawmakers should take a leaf from the predecessor of Pope Francis.

“Pope Benedict XVI resigned because he admitted that he was no longer capable. That’s why I ask President Aquino, are you still capable?” he said.

Addressing legislators, he said, “Instead of you pulling our legs with whatever excuses you come up with, ask yourselves if you can still make yourselves clean.”

Edicio de la Torre, a former priest who went underground during the Ferdinand Marcos regime and who was captured and incarcerated several times until he was finally released after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, came with his wife and teenaged daughter. “This is her first protest rally,” he said with a grin.

Mitos Magsaysay, a former Zambales representative who came with two daughters, said, “I’ve always been against the pork barrel.”

Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz said the event was merely the “tip of the iceberg.”

“It’s not just about the pork barrel issue. It has other issues you know. For example, the competence of this administration, which began with the KKK (kabarkada, kabarilan at kaklase) and then the Luneta hostage, the [Sabah] issue and then this pork barrel. It’s a litany of failures in governance,” Cruz said.

Many women, looking smart in shorts and sneakers and appearing like they had just stepped out of plush subdivisions, came with sons and daughters. There was one lovely matron in an oversized white shirt with her two daughters holding green Manila Hotel umbrellas.

Fund our schools

The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) printed their own rally T-shirts carrying their slogan “Scrap the Pork, Jail the Crooks, Fund our Schools.” Their posters said, “Teachers, honest taxpayers.”

“By marching on the streets, we could leave a legacy for our students and our own children that they will grow up in a country free of corruption and thievery and would make them proud as Filipino people,” said TDC chair Benjo Basas.

A group of artists from Tagaytay City had a literally pork-free lunch at Quirino Grandstand on Monday. The artists, who were stationed near the stage, carried pig-shaped loaves of bread and garlands.

“Jesus gave fish and bread to the people. With the pork barrel, it is symbolic that the bread should benefit the people,” Jovy Ortega said. “We should feel it. We should be able to feed from it. It shouldn’t be left for others to steal or misuse.”

Another group of artists from Angono town, Rizal province, brought with them four towering Higantes Festival mascots. All had bibs with “we don’t want pork” written on them.

Around 100 members of the usually apolitical San Juan Greenhills Muslims Traders Association said the billions of pesos lost in the pork barrel racket could easily improve the lives of people and eliminate insurgency in Mindanao. Lawyer Nassif Malawani said, “I don’t think there’s any one person who really wants to go to war,” he said.

Toward the end of the protests, groups of twos went around with plastic bags collecting trash. The park was unusually spanking clean after a bash.—With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Nathaniel R. Melican, Kristine Felisse Mangunay

 

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