By Bryan Ezra Gonzales
Photos by Anjon Galauran and Demerie Dangla, UP Aperture
Youth groups joined thousands of Filipinos at the Million People March in Luneta Park Monday to call for the abolition of the pork barrel system and the rechanneling of public funds to education and basic social services.
The March to Luneta spurred public discontent after reports from the Commission on Audit revealed some P10 billion funds from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of nearly 200 senators and congressmen were allegedly given out to bogus non-government organizations.
Pork barrel refers to public funds placed under the discretion of lawmakers. The PDAF is but one type of pork barrel, aside from the Public Works Fund, President’s Social Fund and Calamity Fund, among others.
The PDAF allocates P200 million for each senator and P70 million for each representative annually to finance district projects, such as the construction of public markets, roads and local hospitals.
JC Sibayan, Media Liaison Officer of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), said tertiary education is one of the primary sectors affected by the pork barrel system.
“Yung irony nga ng pork barrel, merong one trillion pesos si [President] Noynoy, samantalang ang mga basic social services katulad ng education, health, at iba pa ay wala raw sapat na pondo (The irony is, President Noynoy has one trillion pesos in pork barrel but basic social services such as education, health, etc. are not given enough budget),” Sibayan said.
The youth groups consolidated by the Youth Act Now alliance marched from meet-up points around Manila to participate in the largest demonstration of public discontent in the Aquino administration.
Students, administrators, faculty members and staff from the University of the Philippines Diliman held a solidarity program at Quezon Hall before proceeding to Liwasang Bonifacio with other sectoral groups.
The UP group marched to the Quirino Grandstand and joined the looming crowd for a mini-program.
Protesters uttered chants and songs and used drums and whistles for the mobilization. People wore plastic and paper mache pig masks while others opted to wear plastic cups to imitate pig snouts.
An effigy of President Aquino was also placed near the Memorial Clock. The effigy is a paper mache of the President’s head, distorted to look like a pig. The head was placed on top of a yellow platform that had bent arms fixed on opposite sides.
The Million March to Luneta could be traced to a Facebook event, which aimed to unify a million Filipinos in calling for the abolition of the pork barrel system. It became popular through shares and invites among netizens, eventually gaining support from the general public. Various institutions began promoting the event, releasing anti-pork barrel statements, and encouraging members to participate.
The March had no formal organizer. Initially, 40 volunteers convened only days before Aug. 26 to establish guidelines and security measures for the event, according to the Million March Command Center. The number of volunteers grew to 200 after people signed up as marshals.
The Manila Police District and Manila Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office estimated the crowd at 300,000 people, with less than 100,000 occupying the Quirino Grandstand quadrangle.
Around 30 areas in the country and abroad held simultaneous protests for Monday’s Million March.