'Scrap pork barrel! Punish the corrupt'
MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) – "Scrap pork barrel. Panagutin ang mga kawatan." (Punish the corrupt.)
With these words, protesters began their rally in Luneta on Monday, August 26, to push for the abolition of the much-maligned pork barrel system.
As of Sunday, August 25, at least 18,800 confirmed their attendance in Luneta on Facebook. But more are expected to come. The target? A million strong against the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
Joel Coronel of the Manila Police District (MPD) said they estimated 60,000 people at Luneta as of 9:15 am Monday.
Actor Robin Padilla and his wife Mariel arrived in Luneta early. "Number one, tax payers rin tayo. Number two, Nakikiisa kami sa inyo." (We're here because we're taxpayers like all of you and we are behind you.)
"Buong systema ng gobyerno mali. Hindi kami nandito para kalabanin ang gobyerno. Yung systema ang mali. Kahit sino ilagay mo diyan, kung yung systema mali walang magyayari." (The entire system in government is flawed. We're not here to fight government. Put any leader in that system and things will remain the same.)
The protesters ranged from nuns and priests and students to businessmen, middle-class families, lawyers and other professionals, showcasing the broad-based anger over graft in the impoverished nation.
"The Filipino people are now modern. Proof is the million people march that we can't be fooled by our leaders anymore," a protester calling himself Gundam08 tweeted from the rally site.
Protesters reminded the public to scrutinize not just the PDAF but the pork barrel of the President and other executive officials as well.
The so-called "million people march" is one of the largest public demonstrations since President Benigno Aquino was elected in 2010 on an anti-corruption platform.
The protestors, carrying signs saying "Abolish pork barrel" and "Change the culture of political patronage," were peaceful even if they appeared to have no leader, said national police spokesman Senior Supt Reuben Sindac.
"It's a very respectable gathering. There are families here like a picnic. They are policing their own ranks. This is purely social-network propelled," he told AFP while monitoring the rally.
Over 2,500 members of the MPD were deployed Monday morning at the Luneta Grandstand and nearby areas, the center of the protest in Metro Manila.
Key cities all over the country are also staging protests Monday.
The MPD cops are augmented by the Metro Manila Development Authority, Metro Manila police, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, MPD Police Senior Supt Joel Coronel said. The MPD has been on red alert since Saturday noon.
Based on estimates by individuals serving as representatives for the protest, over 100,000 are expected to troop to Luneta today.
Coronel said Manila police will be taking on a more passive role in the protest. "Organizers assured us that they will police their own ranks," he said.
Initially the protest was had no identified organizer or leader. By Saturday, several groups were identified as the organizers after a meeting the MPD.
The groups include the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance, Rock-Ed, BlogWatch Philippines, Filipino Free Thinkers, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Sanlakas, Akbayan, UP Samasa Alumni, and many individuals unaffiliated with political groups who volunteered simply as concerned taxpayers.
Still, command center head Vincent Lazatin of coalition Transparency and Accountability Network, said no group or individual can claim ownership of the protest.
Traffic rerouting in Manila
Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, who also serves as the city's traffic czar, said rerouting will be implemented today in light of the protest.
By 6 am, traffic was cut from Quirino Avenue and from the Manila Hotel initially, said Moreno. Should the crowd swell, the rerouting will extend up to Anda Circle.
City forces are also ready to anticipate traffic caused by protesters coming from east of Manila.
"Si Pangulong Mayor Erap ay may direktiba sa amin na hayaang makapag-rally ang mga kababayan natin and at the same time, see to it na maayos ang daloy ng trapiko ngayon Lunes," Moreno said.
Protests have also been staged abroad, in places such as Taipei and New York.
PDAF and Napoles
Calls to scrap PDAF intensified following a series of reports linking 5 senators and 23 congressmen to the funding of ghost projects. Lawmakers allegedly funded ghost projects through fake non-government organizations run by fugitive Janet Lim-Napoles.
The protest are pushing through despite President Benigno Aquino III's announcement 3 days prior that he would "abolish" PDAF. But what Aquino really meant was an overhaul of the system. - with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com