Editorial & Opinion

What’s next?

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For the first time, a leaderless protest rally occupied Rizal Park in Manila and many other urban hubs across the country last Monday.

The so-called “Million People March” did not meet its objective of drawing a million protestors all over the country, but it achieved its dream: Starting a sustained “scrap pork” movement. So what’s next?

Clarify the issues. Partly out of human nature, partly out of sheer inertia, the focus on the pork barrel has become somewhat diluted. There are those who are genuinely passionate about scrapping the pork barrel system, but who feel conflicted about the emphasis on investigation and prosecution. If almost the entire legislative branch of government is implicated in the abuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), resources both public and private will be diverted to bring all those involved to justice, at the expense of a deliberate campaign to stop all forms and permutations of the pork barrel. The crucial need is to excise a particular cancer out of the body politic.

There are those, too, who want to scrap the pork barrel, but realize that stopping at the boundaries of Congress would not stop patronage politics but rather re-centralize it. If lump sum appropriations in the Executive are left unexamined, the same specter of discretionary abuse will continue to haunt the country.

There are also those who applaud the scrapping of the PDAF, because of its vulnerability to abuse, but wonder whether local needs can be fully met under another, still-to-be-named arrangement. Perhaps a hybrid system, where local participation is paramount but congressional action is also necessary, might prove useful.

And then there is everyone else: the political operators, the economic opportunists, the politicians who believe fervently in fortune’s amoral wheel. The upshot: There is too much clutter, and the focus has wavered.

The schools who sent delegations to Monday’s protest action, the parish-based groups and people’s organizations, can continue the discussions begun on Monday, and help clarify the issues. The three necessary demands remain the same: Abolish the pork barrel system; punish the crooks who stole the money; open the official records to public scrutiny.

Put public pressure to work. With hundreds of thousands of citizens, maybe even a million or two altogether, inspired by the success of the Monday protest action and only waiting for the next step, the Department of Justice and the Commission on Audit (COA) can widen their fact-finding, evidence-gathering network. Proof of pork-funded roads that were not in fact built, pork-funded services that were not in fact rendered, pork-funded projects that did not in fact exist, can be crowd-sourced, allowing the already overstretched resources of both the DOJ and the COA to focus on the technically difficult tasks, such as establishing paper trails. The network can also serve as a collective conscience in both chambers of Congress, deploying monitors every session day to ensure lawmakers will not forget the pork barrel issue.

Set up a secretariat. The almost postmodern nature of Monday’s protest action reinforces the argument that leaders or personalities may no longer be necessary for people to show up in protest actions in large numbers. But the need for coordinators remains. We can all learn a lesson from the immediate aftermath of the Aquino assassination in 1983, when a multisectoral coalition called Justice for Aquino, Justice for All (Jaja) helped organize the massive funeral march and subsequent mass demonstrations. A lower-profile, broader-based version of Jaja would be welcome.

Conduct lightning rallies. It may be time for the flash mob of the social media generation to turn political. A well-coordinated series of brief protest actions—to picket the house of a particularly recalcitrant senator, or to dramatize outrage over a particularly unresponsive representative—will help keep the people engaged, and the pressure on. 

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