Episode 26: Hijacked

Vendors selling their anti-pork wares at the Million People March in Ayala. Photo c/o @MayTinaMoran.

Vendors selling their anti-pork wares at the Million People March in Ayala. Photo c/o @MayTinaMoran.

Yes, I did say in Ep. 24 that I would put up some Napoles meme images in Episode 25. That was the original plan.  But certain events have overtaken that, and I feel these events take precedence over poking fun at JLN. So much so that I needed to republish an article submitted to POC so it can be read additive-free. And so much so that I have to post twice in a single day.

Before I begin, I feel I need to be absolutely clear about what I’m about to say, because some people can’t seem to understand what I write and why I write it. Everything that follows is my opinion, based on facts that are, for the most part, out in the public domain, whether it be TV interviews, website content, social media postings, etc.. Yes, I make a lot of inferences. But whatever inferences I make, I try as much as possible to back them with facts, and not just some personal ill-will towards people or groups of people.

That said:

It would seem that the phrase “hijack” as used in my last two MillionPeopleMarch (MPM)-related articles needs a deeper discussion so as to avoid numerous misconceptions. Perhaps that is also my fault for thinking that the idea was sufficiently communicated after having been clarified once, but, c’est la vie.

The easiest way for me to start is by citing the Oxford Dictionary definition of “pork barrel:”

  noun
North American informal
      the use of government funds for projects designed to please voters or legislators and win votes:
            political pork barrel for the benefit of their respective sponsors

      [as modifier]:
           wasteful, pork-barrel spending

Note that in this definition, it doesn’t matter if the funds are discretionary or line-item or sourced from savings or whatnot. The focus of the definition is what the money is used for, and ultimately what the intent is behind the use of public funds.

In many ways, the original Item #1 of the MPM Unity Statement reflected a similar tack, focusing on how the money was used and who benefited:

“SCRAP PORK: Successive governments, including the incumbent, have failed to safeguard our interests by allowing and SUPPORTING all kinds of corruption in the pork barrel system. We, the taxpayers, are always told to be patient because the government lacks funds. Now we know why — our money, billions of pesos worth, have been siphoned off by the corrupt.  (Italics mine)”

In context, it was clear that what was referred to was the PDAF, being the center of the Napoles scam implicating several lawmakers. This was the prime mover of the Million People March that got the ball rolling.

It came, however, with a separate qualification at the end:

“But “Pork” is not just PDAF. Pork means all modes of public spending that has little or no accountability. This includes the billions and billions of discretionary funds in all branches of government.”

Here’s where the problem starts. This modification was made in response to PNoy’s unceremonious scrapping of PDAF from the 2014 budget. In my Aug. 25 article I talked about how the organizers (or whatever it is they’re calling themselves nowadays) shifted the goalposts and either zeroed in on Executive lump-sum funds, or claimed that the proposed alternative to PDAF was just the same “pork barrel” in disguise, or some variation/combination of the two themes. As applied today, the current target is the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of the DBM, as alluded to in Jinggoy Estrada’s speech as a “bribe” in exchange for the conviction of former Chief Justice Reynato Corona, and now commonly characterized as “just like pork,” without any qualification whatsoever.

This is, in my honest opinion, the root of what I called “mass pork hysteria.” Now that they’ve characterized pork barrel to refer to types of public funds, rather than to the manner by which the funds are used and the intent behind using the funds, it is all too easy to steer the crowd in any direction a person of reasonable clout chooses.

Examples: DAP is “discretionary,” according to expert observers? Then by all means, let’s make that an MPM issue. GOCCs have intelligence funds that are “lump sum,” as exposed by some random public official? Let’s target that too! Savings is being reallocated to fund Zamboanga rehabilitation? ZOMG PNOY IS BRIBING AN ENTIRE CITY HE MUST BE STOPPED!!!!!1111!!1!!!!11!!1!

Obviously, that last bit was an exaggeration (have to mention that explicitly, because some people, well, you know), but the best real-world example is Jinggoy’s privilege speech. Call it a dud, call it a master stroke, but the bottom line is that Jinggoy’s characterization of DAP as a fund source unto itself and a bribe for convict-Corona votes has brought MPM where it is today: in Ayala, protesting against DAP (among a host of other things), which isn’t even a fund source to begin with and has legality issues distinct from the legal and ethical problems of the prior PDAF system.

What is troubling, and what no one seems to want to point out, is that it was the opposition who first floated the idea that Executive discretionary funds are also “pork barrel.” They have stuck with that line since the Commission on Audit spilled the beans on the errant ways of lawmakers in pocketing PDAF. But what they’ve failed to point out is that by its very nature, the Executive *needs* discretionary funds in order to function properly. Calamity funds. Contingency funds. Intelligence funds. The first two cannot be made a line item in the national budget, and the third cannot even be subject to audit under the “state secrets” rule. Yet the opposition, who have either already been charged with plunder along with Napoles or who have been called out for calling for PDAF abolition yet used PDAF throughout their stay in office, has successfully influenced the thinking of those who made the Unity Statement. It broadened the Unity Statement of the MPM, just enough that they can now ride the MPM bandwagon and divert attention towards Aquino and away from themselves. The very people we should be making accountable are the ones steering us away, and instead of calling them out we are accepting their direction with open arms and ready pitchforks.

“Hey look, I see discretionary funds! <insert sounds of running crowd here>”

This is what I mean when I say that MPM has been hijacked.

Ironically, under the Oxford definition of pork barrel, the DAP may yet fall under that class of public fund use, insofar as lawmakers were allowed to nominate projects to be granted allocations and politically benefit from their nominations. Alas, the current MPM definition ignores this facet completely, and thus fails to really pin down the problem of patronage politics driving legislative and even executive decision-making.

Some organizers have made much of their purported Unity Statement, making various claims as to the encompassing manner of its formulation. Personally, I don’t know how it was arrived at, and exchanges with organizers haven’t revealed much. However, what I *do* find revealing are two factors.

The first is immediately obvious: the groups within the MPM itself don’t seem to care much for it. Even as official spokespersons for the MPM disavow calls for resignation, militant groups openly call for it on live  cable TV, and even during the event proper itself. Even as the organizers collectively claim that the MPM rally is not aimed at any particular politician, groups openly single the guy out. Even key figures of the Aug. 26 rally have taken a bite out of the poisonous fruit and now make PNoy the focus of the discussion.

What’s the point of a collective Unity Statement if individual members are going their merry way, to the point where they directly contradict the “official position” of the MPM that there are no calls for resignation, that it is not an anti-PNoy rally?

This behavior has been excused under the guise of “respecting the opinion of others.” I find this to be self-defeating. If at the end of the day, “respect for opinion of others” wins out, then the Unity Statement is pointless. If the member orgs of MPM cannot be enjoined to at least limit themselves to the scope of the Unity Statement, then by what moral suasion can MPM enjoin newcomers to do the same?

This brings me to the second, more obscure factor. The first Unity Statement issued prior to Aug. 26 was met with confusion, as at that time there was no set of “organizers” for MPM, just “volunteers for logistics,” so not a few wondered who were behind the statement and why there was even a need for such a thing if there was no organizer to begin with.

It seems that to remedy this hiccup, they’ve turned to the almighty power of the sign-up page, where potential members are greeted by this message:

“After reading our Unity Statement and you decide that you want to identify yourself as a part of this cause based on its contents, please signup using the form below; otherwise, you may close your browser window after reading this.”

Obviously, I’m not following their instructions.

This strikes me as a rather odd way of encouraging people to sign up and be part of a movement. “Hey, if you don’t like it, go check out Disney.com or something.” There is something off-putting about telling people to sign up, or get out.

If nothing else, that seems to account for the abrasive reaction to criticism displayed by the organizers and by various MPM supporters, who have made it clear that I’m “yellow/partisan/troll/<insert description here>” and don’t deserve further engagement. M’kay.

In a few minutes, the crowds will start to gather at Ayala. I have serious doubts as to its success, in terms of being able to push for institutional reform more than in terms of attendance. Maybe even the attendance bit. But who knows? People do like music and a show, after all.

UPDATE (10/04/2013): Peachy Bretaña posted this update on her Facebook account: https://www.facebook.com/peachybrets/posts/10151612563687714 At least *someone’s* acknowledged what’s blatantly going on. (The comments, however, are quite amusing.)

ANOTHER UPDATE (10/06/2013): It would seem that Tonyo Cruz has taken a broadside at several netizens and bloggers, including apparently myself, given how @momblogger tagged me and responded to criticism. Oddly, he doesn’t link to any of these blogs or posts or articles, so those who read his blog post will either have to sift through tons of blogs or Twitter accounts just to find them, or just take his word that these “pro-pork, pro-Aquino” netizens are horrible, horrible people.

In the interest of fair play, you can read Tonyo’s blog post here. Consider this tweet I posted as fair warning. =)

YET ANOTHER UPDATE (10/07/2013): Nato Reyes, current head of the Makabayan umbrella org, posted this cute little blog entry, pretty much repeating what Tonyo said, in relatively less words.  Not only are there no links to these “hijack” claims he’s referencing, you can’t even ask him to clarify because comments are turned off. ::shrug:: Again, in the interest of fairness, you can read his blog via the link above and judge for yourself.

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One response to “Episode 26: Hijacked

  1. Pingback: Making a Million People March – The Marocharim Experiment·

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