Exactly a year after netizens fought President Aquino to eventually defeat the obnoxious Cybercrime Law, Filipino Internet users today waged another battle that showed the fight last year was not in vain.
Individual citizens and organizations, powered by social media and traditional tools, today held a march at the Luneta involving hundreds of thousands of citizens fed up with President Aquino’s refusal to abolish the pork barrel system.
Crowd estimates from the police say the target one million participants was not reached. Their calculators could only count to 300,000.
The streamers, placards and effigies expressed the outrage of a heavily-taxed citizenry long told that the government has no money for vital social services and the improvement of infrastructure, including flood control and airports.
The crowd was composed of people from all walks of life: People from the posh villages and high-end condominiums who came in white designer polo shirts and pants, and minimum wage earners and urban poor wearing whatever they could find. Catholic parishes sent delegations, complete with tarpaulins of their indignation over the continued corruption under Aquino.
Activists belonging to Bayan, the multisectoral alliance founded by the likes of Jose W. Diokno and Lorenzo Tanada, mobilized in their thousands, paying homage to the heroes who died fighting under the red flags of revolution.
These scene at Luneta was replicated more than a dozen times in as many cities across the Philippines.
The protest actions outside Manila however were more organized, with programs and speakers representing the different persuasions who agreed to gather and mobilize. Such an arrangement would have worked wonders at the Luneta and kept the hundreds of thousands engaged. Perhaps an assessment meeting will bring out more recommendations on how to propel this movement forward.
Days ahead of today’s marches, mass actions were already being held abroad by overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong and across the Middle East.
In Los Angeles, Bayan USA staged a picket at Ritz Carlton where Jeane Napoles allegedly owns a property.
The role of social media
Make no mistake about it: Social media and the Internet played a pivotal role in the #MillionPeopleMarch to #ScrapPork.
Social media enabled citizens to be media themselves and to infect and influence mainstream media. It even went to the extent that the noise of social media-powered protests goaded the President into making a deceptive statement that he is for the abolition of the pork barrel.
Social media acted as an organizing, communication, publicity, awareness-raising and mobilizing tool for citizens.
But what made social media use in this campaign unique and powerful enough to mobilize hundreds of thousands of citizens?
The key difference is the message. Pitted against each other, the message of the marchers, a call for the abolition of the pork barrel, proved superior to the apologies and deceitful statements of President Aquino and his intellectually-impoverished defenders.
President Aquino is also a social media, with prominent netizens within his official family administering Twitter and Facebook accounts that reach millions. This is aside from the personal blogs and other social media accounts of his underlings and cohorts. Aquino also has under his disposal PTV, RTVM, Radyo ng Bayan and the presidential bully pulpit. Everytime he opens his mouth, it is news. Then, there is the highly-influential “Queen of All Media” Kris Aquino who – as if following a script designed to deflect public anger from her brother – spoke recently about the pork barrel issue.
But all these proved not enough to thwart or stop today’s protests in Manila and elsewhere. mainly because, the marching and protesting citizens carried a superior message that they amplified via the mass actions and using social media.
As they say, content is King.
More challenges ahead
Today’s actions is only the opening salvo of what could be a powerful series of mass actions until President Aquino is compelled to abolish all pork barrel.
Representatives and leaders of the different participants in today’s march owe it to the public to hold an assessment meeting and map out the next steps. It appears we are headed into the direction of forming a supercoalition or superalliance that will coordinate and lead this campaign and do battle head on against President Aquino and the pork barrel system he defends. The movement is not without precedent: Filipinos have done it many times before against Marcos, Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo – forming coalitions and alliances, working together on agreed courses of action, and calling for joint, parallel, and coordinated actions.
Social media will continue to play a role in keeping tabs on the issue, and answering the puny offensive of Yellow Army partisans. It should be a walk in the park to answer each and every argument used by Pro-PNoy bloggers because the basis of their defense of the pork barrel merely ranges from diehard adulation of all things Aquino does to defending the systematic corruption which has no moral and social basis.
The Internet will be a battleground in the next few hours, days, and weeks as the Pro-PNoy horde try their best to seize the initiative. The keyword though is “try”. Public sentiment is against their principal, Mr. Aquino, and the pork barrel system they defend.
Organizations, big and small, will have a role to play too because they reach more people quickly and could mobilize them. This is especially true with grassroots-based groups like BAYAN, big and prominent schools, churches and faiths, and institutions.
This growing movement has the benefit of a deep bench of thinkers, analysts and experts, as well as grassroots advocates. The task that they could take on immediately is to present sets of alternatives on how to dispose of the public money allotted to pork barrel.
For instance: Mr. Aquino and his defenders crudely use underserved and underfunded towns and agencies to justify the perpetuation of the pork barrel system. In their minds, discretionary funding benefits these areas.
An alternative to this would be to do away with all discretionary spending (or pork barrel) and instead make formal allocations in the national budget. If Mr. Aquino and his minions really want progress to poor towns and underfunded agencies, they should give up pork barrel and incorporate these savings into actual budgetary appropriations.
Estimates vary but the total amount of pork barrel Mr. Aquino defends may reach P2-trillion. This is a huge amount that should not be left to the caprices and whims of the President, Members of Congress and their cohorts.
Are we going to be victorious? Yes but only if we take stock of what we have done and our shortcomings, form a movement and take more steps forward. More importantly, yes, because the people are behind us.