From ordinary citizens who are demanding accountability from their city and provincial government to taxi drivers seeking the abolition of the pork barrel system, the “Edsa Tayo” prayer vigil at the Edsa Shrine on Wednesday did not disappoint people passionate about what they are fighting for.
This, despite the actual turnout of just around 1,200, far from the 5,500 expected by organizers.
Antonio Marquez, an executive from Makati City, took a leave from work and came alone to the prayer vigil in Quezon City.
“Politicians are using the pork barrel to perpetuate themselves in power. Remove it and political dynasty in our country will be gone,” he said.
A number of nongovernment workers came in groups, hoping to continue to lead the fight against poverty.
Giving NGO bad name
Teresa Dalumpines, project director of a nongovernment organization (NGO) for the urban poor, Pag-aalay ng Puso Foundation, said the pork barrel scam had tainted the image of the NGO community.
“We have never asked the government for a single cent to be able to bring services to the poor. But the news about Janet Napoles gave NGOs a bad name,” Dalumpines said.
G.Jeff Lamigo, communications manager of World Vision International and convenor of the Christian Convergence for Good Governance, said the people had been betrayed for a long time and it was time to stand for what was right and just.
Group from Laguna
Among the groups that attended the prayer vigil at Edsa Shrine was the Anti-Corruption League of Laguna, a group of citizens who decided to band together to demand accountability from their local government.
“We formed around December last year, starting in Santa Rosa, Laguna,” said George Pre, the group’s spokesman. “Santa Rosa is regarded as the richest city in Calabarzon. But there’s also a lot of corruption.”
Pre said he started the group shortly after charging the city government’s officials with plunder, after audit reports from the Commission on Audit showed that the local government had failed to account for where money in several accounts went.
“We started there, now we’re also supporting this protest to abolish the pork barrel, which is a bigger issue and which affects many more people. These funds should go directly to the people who need them,” he said.
The group, composed of professionals, housewives and workers, vowed that they would continue to join other protests until the pork barrel was abolished.
“We were in Luneta, and we were also the only group that was there when Janet Lim-Napoles was transferred to Fort Sto. Domingo,” Pre said.
Bikers, taxi drivers unite
Other groups—bikers, antipolitical dynasty advocates, community groups, and volunteers—also participated in the vigil, but a particular group said it sacrificed a half day’s work to air their call for the scrapping of the pork barrel.
A group of taxi drivers, called the Drivers Unite for Mass Progress, Equality and Reality-Philippine Taxi Drivers’ Association, said it really pushed members to participate in the prayer vigil.
“Most of us had no sleep after returning our taxis to the garage at around 2 a.m., with the heavy rains, floods and [heavy] traffic last night,” said Fermin Octubre, the group’s president.
Some 50 taxi drivers from his group joined the vigil, as they also called for junking the 12 percent value-added tax imposed on fuels.
“It just hurts that our contributions to the government did not go to good causes,” he said. “So we just better abolish pork barrel, and with it, scrap the 12-percent VAT on automotive fuels.”
The prayer vigil was meant to maintain the momentum began by the Million People March against the pork barrel at Luneta in Manila on Aug. 26.
“The spark that began in Luneta has now spread to Edsa and will also be lighted later in Pagadian, Iloilo and other places, homes, and schools until it is clear to the whole country that the pork barrel should be abolished,” said Junep Ocampo, one of the event’s organizers.
He said the organizers were not after the numbers. “If only seven came, that would still be OK with us …Luneta was a picnic and here we want some commitment,” Ocampo said.
Kick them out
On the sidelines of the prayer vigil, former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Solita Monsod urged the public to junk in the coming 2016 elections politicians who personally benefited from the pork barrel system or those who continue to support it.
Monsod and other speakers at the prayer vigil also called on the citizenry to remain vigilant and not give up the fight until the entire pork barrel system—estimated to be worth P310 billion—is abolished and the funds transferred to agencies that are audited annually.
“These rallies are fine but in the final analysis, the lawmakers will only listen if we use our votes. Those people (who benefited), let’s not vote for them. That’s the final judgment,” Monsod, an Inquirer columnist, told reporters at the Edsa Shrine.
“We can shout and scream but unless we act in a manner that is going to show them that we are really angry, their happy days will continue. The protests must take different forms but the final form is our vote in 2016,” she added.
Besides Monsod, the other personalities who attended the prayer vigil were former National Treasurer Leonor Briones, retired Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Yñiguez, activist/satirist Mae Paner aka Juana Change, entertainer Darryl Shy, and former Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon.
Yñiguez said the prayer vigil and succeeding protest actions would help “conscientize” the public about corruption in government.
Esperon declined to be interviewed and said he was “just attending Mass” although he arrived after the noonday Mass had ended.
Special purpose funds
For Briones, the pork barrel was just a piglet. She detailed other lump-sum funds the public should be vigilant against.
She said the P25.2 billion in the PDAF that the public had been clamoring against because of its misuse was less than 10 percent of the special purpose funds, which amount to P310 billion.
The P310-billion fund, “a one-line item,” is part of the P2.268-trillion expenditure for 2014 reported by President Aquino in his State of the Nation Address, Briones said. “The P310 billion is under the power of the President.”
She said the special purpose fund was different from the President’s Social Fund, which amounted to P2.6 billion.
At the shrine, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and Change.org oversaw the signing of petitions calling for the abolition of pork.
Inday Varona of Change.org said that as of noon, 14,071 signatures had registered online, while a “couple of hundreds” had signed the petition sheets “on-site.”
The “couple of hundreds,” Varona said, were apart from the some 70,000 signatures gathered by the group on-site as of Tuesday night.
Crowds started flocking to the Edsa Shrine at around 10 a.m., with the vigil starting with the recitation of the rosary at 11 a.m.
People came with their props—pig masks, antipork T-shirts, hats and posters—despite organizers’ plea not to bring those.
Vendors also cashed in by selling these props, with masks priced at P75, and T-shirts at P200. By the time the vigil ended around 3:30 p.m., however, the masks were marked down to P10 apiece.
Others offered water, while food vendors boasted of “no pork” lunches, with a combo of dishes and a cup of rice.
Scuffle with militants
The peace was slightly disturbed in the afternoon when a brief scuffle between a militant group and the policemen ensued.
Chief Supt. Marcelo Garbo Jr., head of the National Capital Regional Police Office, said one policeman suffered a contusion on his arm after a protester kicked him as activists attempted to get through the police barricade, carrying placards and banners, which were prohibited by the police as requested by the management of the Edsa Shrine.
But later, the police allowed the protesters to join the others, yielding to chants at the shrine of “Papasukin! (Let them in!)”