It all started with the shocking discovery earlier this month of a scam headed by one woman involving fake non-government organizations (NGOs), ghost beneficiaries, and the pork barrel funds of our lawmakers (officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF) which resulted in the theft of billions of pesos of Filipino taxpayers' money. As details of the breadth of the plunder were released, normally lackadaisical middle-class Filipinos suddenly couldn't sit still. A no-organizer Million People March to Luneta (Rizal Park) event was created in Facebook, scheduled on National Heroes Day, the last Monday of August. People were simply asked to gather in front of the Quirino Grandstand with family and friends—maybe even have a picnic—to show the government the number of citizens who want the pork barrel system scrapped, and to demand that lawmakers involved in the scam be investigated and prosecuted.
So, gather we did, despite the threat of rain.
In fact, it rained over the weekend and the field was very muddy. People just avoided the muddiest parts.
In the two weeks that the event page was up, people got a bit more organized. The leaders of the biggest groups joining the protest met and agreed that the center of the field would be reserved for those without affiliations. More militant groups—with their banners and chanting—would stay at the periphery. My ground-level photos don't do the crowd justice; see this photo from Paulo Alcazaren, who uses a drone for his aerial photos.
I think that organized groups were the minority that day, however. More people came with their families and friends, and despite the seriousness of the issues being discussed, the atmosphere was very relaxed and even—dare I say it—fun.
Someone was even flying a kite. I must admit, the wind was perfect for it, especially since Rizal Park is just beside Manila Bay.
Many people came with their "abolish the pork barrel" t-shirts and banners, like these three young students with their "The evolution of pork" banner.
There was ample media coverage, of course. ABS-CBN's Korina Sanchez set up an elevated platform with a tent so she could interview famous personalities who showed up at the rally. Juana Change (actress Mae Paner) came in her signature red lingerie and a Miss Piggy mask and wig.
Musician, writer and activist Jim Paredes refused to be interviewed on the platform, saying that he wasn't an organizer but just a participant. So ABS-CBN found a way to interview him on the ground, where he was surrounded by other participants who stopped to listen to him speak.
Unlike the issue of the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, religious and lay persons agree about the pork barrel—it has to be scrapped if the Philippines is to progress beyond patronage politics.