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MANILA, Philippines – What started as a viral Facebook post calling for mass action – with no concrete plans on where, when, or what time – has now turned into an organized “picnic rally” complete with a video wall installed, volunteer medics and security marshalls on standby, and a “permit to rally” secured.
The message they want the government to hear is simple: scrap the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel, and prosecute officials who misused the funds supposedly allocated for infrastructure development and social services for the poor.
Peachy Bretaña – not acquianted with musician Ito Rapadas who posted the call above – picked up the post through a mutual friend. Bretaña then suggested that the march be held in Luneta Park during National Heroes’ Day.
“Because we are all heroes,” she would later on say of the many diligent taxpayers who felt deprived after a series of reports exposed how government money was spent on transactions with dubious non-governmental organizations.
An event page was eventuallly put up designating no specific individual as the movement’s leader and announcing the march to be held on Monday, August 26, at the said national park.
Most of the collaboration occured online, through personal messages and viral images shared.
Advocacy groups and concerned individuals — who mostly didn’t know each other before this — met for the first time on Wednesday, August 21.
Not the usual suspects
“[What’s special with this movement is] that it wasn’t called by the usual suspects – ‘yung mga bugbog na sa (those who are already used to) mass action like we are…. Most of these people are really new. They don’t even speak the language of the usual mass action manifesto,” said musician Jim Paredes, who is among the organizers.
Michelle Estor, a government lawyer, said it was utter discontent with government that prompted her to help out in organizing the march.
“Masakit ‘yung magbabasa ka ng payslip mo buwan-buwan na ang daming kinakaltas, ang daming binabawas sa suweldong dapat sa pamilya mo na, pero hindi napupunta sa iyo, kasi may ibang dapat daw paglalaanan,” she bemoaned.
(It hurts to receive your monthly payslip with various deductions from your salary that could have gone to your family, because these are supposedly allotted [to government services].)
The last time Estor joined a mass action was during EDSA 2, the 4-day rally 12 years ago that ousted President Joseph “Erap” Estrada.
An exposé on Estrada allegedly receiving bribe money from the illegal numbers game jueteng caused the public outrage.
“More than rage, it was a demand for change. [I feel that] more now. At that time, estudyante pa ako. So hindi ko pa dama yung sakit ng tax deduction (I was just a student, so I didn’t feel yet how painful tax deductions were),” said Estor.
While organizations affiliated with the radical Left movement will also be present during the “picnic rally,” the group of organizers decided to allocate the center space of the rally area to protesters who are not affiliated with a political or advocacy group.
Bretaña herself, who first suggested the date and venue of the march, said mass demonstrations is not-so-familiar territory for her.
Power of social media
Irene Aguila, who has worked for different advocacy groups and considers herself an activist, said Monday’s “picnic rally” is about the many Filipinos who are tired of the cycle of corruption sustained through the pork barrel system and enhanced by a lack of transparency.
“I’m meeting for the first time some people who are totally unaffiliated, which is a nice and refreshing thing,” said Aguila, who is also an advocate for the passage of the Freedom of Information bill.
Paredes echoed Aguila’s thoughts, saying a measure of success for Monday is when people unaffiliated with the usual organizers of mass action show up.
“It means they came because they are concerned with PDAF, with prosecution, and transparency,” he said.
He highlighted the role of social media in increasing people’s involvement in shaping the legislative agenda.
“Social media is like the new nervous system. We never cared before for things that happened in Norway or the Arab World,” said Paredes. “Now, we care about everything. We all want to feel a oneness with everyone else.” – Rappler.com