I wrote this article for the Philippine Online Chronicles.
Iloilo City, Philippines – The effigy of a yellow pig lies abandoned on the asphalt road. The pig bore the face of President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III complete with the signature glasses of his dead father, but with a pig’s snout and a mischievous smirk. Intended to be burned in last September 19’s big anti-pork protest, the effigy is soaking wet from the rain.
But the more than 3,000 students, faculty, university employees and administrators crammed over two lanes of the road stretching outside the Iloilo Provincial Capitol remain undaunted. Coming from different universities and colleges all over Iloilo, they are protesting the plunder of public funds by corrupt politicians through the pork barrel system.
Having marched their way through the rain from the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) and West Visayas State University (WVSU) city campuses in Molo and La Paz districts respectively, this motley crowd are standing their ground outside despite the gloomy weather. Many have flags, banners, streamers, and placards, but more are carrying umbrellas.
“The final nail is hammered in the coffin of Noynoy Aquino’s matuwid na daan. The emperor is left with no clothes, his anti-corruption finally exposed as one big farce,” said League of Filipino Students-Iloilo Spokesperson JC Alejandro referring to the administration’s clinging on to the pork barrel system both in the executive and the legislative branches of government.
Alejandro said that in spite of Aquino’s announced abolition of the PDAF, the P25 billion allocated for PDAF will be retained in the 2014 national budget. He added that the President’s very own discretionary funds amounting to about P1.3 trillion are retained and remains untouched in the proposed budget for the next year.
“Our call remains the same. We demand the immediate abolition of the pork barrel, a system that promotes patronage by giving the sole discretion of funds to particular officials who can then allocate it in favor of selected allies instead of directly financing the people’s needs. We are for the scrapping of all pork by whatever name,” said Alejandro.
About 500 of the protesters hail from UPV, more than half of whom were bused all the way from the Miagao, Iloilo campus to join the mass action. Speaking in behalf of the UPV community during the protest program, UPV University Student Council Chairperson Keysie Gomez called for the re-channeling of all pork funds directly to education and other social services.
The student leader said that 79 state universities and colleges nationwide will suffer reduced allocations in the proposed 2014 national budget, the biggest of which will be suffered by the UP system with a P1.43 billion cut. “While there is funds for corruption, there is none for us iskolars ng bayan who now pay expensive fees because of the lack of state subsidy for education,” she said.
The students of WVSU, the budget of which would be slashed by P10 million in next year’s national budget, compose the main bulk of protest participants. Students from the Western Visayas College of Science and Technology (WVCST) and the Central Philippine University (CPU) College of Theology also joined the protest action.
Meanwhile Anakbayan-UPV chairperson Jude Mangilog said that the pork barrel system is just the tip of the iceberg. “The root of corruption is bureaucrat capitalism wherein government is a tool to further the private profit interests of the big landlords, big compradors, political dynasties and their foreign imperialist masters,” he said.
The September 19 protest is coordinated by the Iloilo Youth ACT Now, Kabataan Party-list Panay, Anakbayan-Panay, League of Filipino Students-Iloilo, College Editors Guild of the Philippines-Panay, Sandigan ng Mag-aaral para sa Sambayanan-UPV, Student Christian Movement of the Philippines-Iloilo, National Union of Students of the Philippines-Iloilo and the All UP Workers Alliance.
In the coming days, more and more protest actions are expected in response to the Aquino administration’s insistence on retaining the pork barrel system over and above the genuine needs of the Filipino people for education, health, housing, and other social services.