In this generation, rallies and protest actions have taken forms entirely distinct from protests staged some 20 to 40 years ago. In the pre-martial law era, students from UP and other universities marched almost daily on the streets, walking many kilometers, carrying banners, until they reached Liwasang Bonifacio or Mendiola—to be as close to Malacañang Palace as possible—where they did their speeches. Their protests focused on the excesses and abuses of the Marcos regime and called for the stepping down of the then administration. They often had violent encounters with authorities, resulting in deaths or injuries among the ranks of the students. They would sometimes be thrown off their tracks with water canons. Despite these threats to their safety, their protests went on relentlessly. Many of them were arrested and sent to prison; some tortured. Fire was in the belly of the young in decades past and the masses of Filipinos saw it.
In contrast, rallies and protests now begin online or through various social media. Protests are no longer spearheaded by students but mostly by young to middle-aged or even older professionals. Too, entertainment or humor has become a component. I read one poster online which said: “Hindi ito PDAF; hindi ito DAP; ito ay holdap.” (This is not PDAF; this is not DAP; this is hold up) This poster contained the picture of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad holding a gun pointed to the reader. PDAF refers to Priority Development Assistance Fund which has been the subject of massive protests by Filipinos for having become the source of corruption in billion s of pesos. DAP, on the other hand, refers to the Disbursement Acceleration Program created under the presidency of Benigno Aquino III which legal experts have described as illegal and unconstitutional. Apart from this poster, I read some cartoon strips online showing Senators Miriam Santiago and Joker Arroyo quipping that we are in trouble because the President does not have the intelligence to manage things well enough. Wry and acerbic humor has characterized present-day protests. In the anti-pork barrel rally on Friday last week, a female comedian garbed as a pig acted as Janet Napoles who is believed to be the mastermind of the PDAF or pork barrel scam from where she allegedly amassed billions of taxpayers’ money.
The emerging trend of using social media makes communication move faster without need of resorting to street marches and fiery speeches. Yet, something seems to be missing. The new trend may bring out the creativity of those protesting but it does not bring to the level of the great majority of the populace and the Filipino masses the fire in the bellies of the youth, their fury and rage at how extensive and mind-blowing corruption in government has become. The passion of the young some three or four decades ago is missed by the masses which have no access to the social media.
Another significant trend in the present day is that questions of law and constitutionality are elevated to the Supreme Court for a clear pronouncement. The first to notice and speak up about the unconstitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program of the Office of the President was the Philippine Constitution Association. In a meeting last week, the officers and governors of Philconsa resolved to question before the Supreme Court the constitutionality of the President’s DAP.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad justified the release of about P50 to P100 million each to senators and P10 million to each representative of the House by saying it was a “spending mechanism to ramp up expenditures in the wake of the sluggish economy.” He denied it was a bribe to the lawmakers to convict then-impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona. Philconsa chairman Manuel Lazaro, on the other hand, said that it is only Congress that can appropriate budget. Without a law, public funds cannot be disbursed. Thus, the disbursement to lawmakers of millions of pesos, totaling P2.98 billion (on top of the annual P200 million in pork barrel funds per senator) under DAP is unconstitutional because it is without legislative appropriation, Justice Lazaro said.
Philconsa president, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, added that this was unconstitutional because it did not undergo legislative scrutiny. Savings by the government from the previous fiscal year must be returned to the treasury. Yet, he said, the Office of the President used the savings in the impeachment of former Chief Justice Corona. He added that the 188 congressmen who signed the impeachment complaint received P10 million each while the 20 senators who convicted him were each given P50 to P100 million under the President’s DAP, with the exception of Senator Panfilo Lacson who did not accept the additional fund from the President’s DAP.
Former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas both agreed that the DAP is illegal and unconstitutional. They said that savings cannot be used to augment a non-existent item in the budget.
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The level of corruption in government has reached fever-pitch. A judge I was speaking to last week said how she wished she were not a government employee so she could join protests and help create change. I say, as long as we have passion in our hearts and fire in our bellies, nothing is ever impossible.
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