Sunday, September 8, 2013

A case for resistance

After the August 26th people march at Luneta, September looks like a spirited month for Filipinos to sustain and maintain their opposition to the pork barrel system.
It’s not just the congressional pork barrel, known otherwise by its euphemism, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), that the people want to abolish, but also the presidential social fund or discretionary fund which is many times larger than the pork Congress allots to its members.  
Public protests against pork barrel intensify after the August 26th people march
in Luneta. Photo by AFP.
The president’s pork is reported to be more than 1.5 trillion pesos, and that easily makes the P25-billion congressional pork barrel a drop in the bucket. With that amount of money at the discretion of the president, there is a lot for a corrupt president and his cabinet of close allies and friends to be tempted to plunder.
What enhances the opportunity and motivation to steal from this enormous fund is the absence of review by the Commission on Audit (COA) and congressional oversight. Right now, the current administration dips into this fund whenever the government needs money to finance the President’s favourite programs like the conditional cash transfer fund (the 4Ps) and public-private partnership projects. Money for national emergencies due to unforeseen natural events such as typhoons and other calamities also comes from this fund, which the administration uses as a blanket justification for its discretionary spending.
Where does this president’s huge discretionary fund come from? It’s all easy money – royalties ($1 billion this year) from the Malampaya Deepwater Gas-to-Power project, a consortium between Shell, Chevron and the Philippine Department of Energy which was criticized as a sell-out by the Philippine government to foreign corporations; revenues from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) operation of casinos and slot VIP Clubs; the sale of sweepstakes and lotto tickets by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO); and, revenues from other income-generating public corporations which are too many to enumerate here.
The Aquino government faces a September offensive of protests from various sectors of Philippine society for its stand on pork barrel. Aquino has been ambivalent on whether to scrap PDAF although it is Congress which has the power to repeal the dreaded pork barrel legislation. But the President remains adamant to preserve his discretionary fund which he said is exclusively for the purpose of implementing the government’s social programs and its response to national emergencies and calamities.
First off, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has called for prayer vigils across the country on September 7 which coincided with Pope Francis’ plea for a “Day of Atonement” as Catholics around the world celebrate the vigil of the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Pope has asked all Catholics to offer prayers in atonement for their sins against world peace and in particular pray for the restoration of peace in Syria.
For its part, the CBCP also declared September 7 as a day of atonement for Filipino Catholics for sins against peace in our country. “According to our moral judgment, the present pork barrel practice in government is fertile ground for graft and corruption. Promoting the politics of patronage, it is contrary to the principles of stewardship, transparency and accountability. It is immoral to continue this practice,” the CBCP further said.
On September 11, Filipinos from different faiths will hold a prayer vigil at the Edsa Shrine under the initiative of a new movement called Edsa Tayo. There will be an inter-faith prayer, the lighting of the vigil candle and Freedom Flame, and some singing, all part of the continuing protest after the August 26th march to completely abolish pork barrel. According to the organizers, “Edsa Tayo will only be the kick-off a wider prayer vigil.”
Two days after Edsa Tayo, militant groups will also hold a mass action against the pork barrel system on September 13 at Rizal Park in Manila. Then on September 19, millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will temporarily suspend their remittances to the Philippine government, which organizers dubbed as “Zero Remittance Day,” in support of the growing nationwide movement to abolish the pork barrel system.
President Noynoy Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda immediately downplayed the planned demonstrations. He questioned why the organizers of the September 11 prayer vigil decided to hold their rally on the birth anniversary of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Lacierda likewise belittled the announcement of Migrante International that some 112 Filipino migrant workers’ organizations from all over the world have agreed not to send remittances as part of the protest. He doesn’t think OFWs would be able to hold their remittances because it’s their families who would eventually  suffer. 
Anti-pork barrel protests zoom in on President Noynoy Aquino for insisting
that he should keep his presidential pork. Photo by
Lacierda and his boss, by extension, both miss the point of these September rallies. The Edsa Tayo organizers insist that they never thought of celebrating the birthday of the late dictator and that September 11 was just a convenient date.
But President Aquino and his spokesperson showed their brazen lack of appreciation of the OFWs’ decision to suspend their remittances. Overseas Filipino workers agreed not to remit on September 19 as a symbolic protest and a political exercise for Filipino immigrants to collectively demonstrate their outrage on issues that affect them. OFWs chose September 19 because it was on this day when the Philippine government implemented the Overseas Workers Welfare Assistance Omnibus Policies (OOP) that effectively made the $25 contributions to the Overseas Workers Welfare Fund mandatory per contract.
Describing the Overseas Omnibus Policies as “anti-migrant,” Migrante International said the Zero Remittance Day on September 19 will enable the voices of OFWs “to be heard in the call to abolish the pork barrel and re-channel funds for the people’s interest, including more efficient services and welfare assistance to overseas Filipino workers in distress.” Filipino migrant organizations from all over the world agreed not to send remittances to their families in the Philippines to express their outrage against the “widespread corruption, patronage politics and social injustice” in the Philippines.
The Zero Remittance Day by Filipino overseas workers is more than symbolic. It is beyond expression of their collective indignation. More than anything else, it is imagination in action, a call for resistance that could signal the beginning of more protests of civil disobedience against the current administration.
One Philippine newspaper wrote in its editorial that migrant workers have the right to be angry. These workers sacrifice their future so that the families they leave behind can afford a better life. With their income remittances, they have long been considered a lifeline to our troubled economy. But when the leaders they elect betray their trust, their hopes of returning to a better country are likewise crushed.
But not just migrant workers have the right to be angry. Every Filipino must be enraged with a government that doesn’t follow what it says. “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap,” the Aquino government proudly proclaims. Yet, its actions betray its words. Poverty is on the rise because this government is no match against corruption, more so with its complicity with the very venal act it condemns.
Our migrant workers are showing us the way to peaceful resistance. Their call for Zero Remittance Day is based on the belief that the pork barrel system is immoral, unjust and a dangerous policy. It is the kind of civil disobedience that is justified because it challenges a government that tolerates its own injustice to the people. Henry David Thoreau wrote of this form of civil disobedience as accomplishing a “peaceable revolution.”
While President Aquino and his administration may deem the migrant workers’ decision to suspend their remittances on September 19 as ineffective, perhaps absurd because it would affect their families even more as Lacierda claims, the harmlessness of such entirely symbolic protest may serve a higher purpose. It shows that collectively, Filipinos, short of a true revolution, are not without the means to redress their grievances. It also demonstrates other ways in the people’s arsenal of protests which they can unleash against a government that is not merely corrupt but also insensitive to their outrage.
There have been many historical instances of civil disobedience, such as those of Thoreau, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Civil disobedience is a classic way of expressing defiance toward government and unwillingness to support its policies. Other forms of civil disobedience like boycotts, refusal to pay taxes, sit-ins like the Occupy movement, and general strikes will make it more difficult for a government to function. True, there could be public discomfort, but not for a long time, because the government will become more responsive and sensitive to the purposes of civil disobedience.
Rallies, prayer vigils, disobeying morally repugnant laws and policies, and other forms of public demonstrations must continue against the pork barrel system until the government engages the people in a moral dialogue toward an acceptable resolution. On the other hand, the government should not resort to heavy-handedness by using its coercive powers in silencing the people’s protest.

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