Sunday, September 15, 2013

EDSA Tayo: Anti-pork inter-faith prayer vigil

Note:  FilAm Star, a biweekly in the Bay Area for Fipinos in America, published this article in its 13-19 Sept 2013 issue.

There is one thing I will remember most of EDSA Tayo on September 11.  I lost Php400 and my senior citizen card to a decent looking pickpocket probably wearing an anti-pork T-shirt just like most of the protesters gathered at the EDSA Shrine.

My money clipper was still in my front pocket when I was taking photos of UP Economics professor Winnie Monsod as she answered questions on her way out of the church.  Many had been waiting to hear her powerpoint presentation on the pork barrel, which was announced in the papers the day before; but apparently, the shrine administrator had told her that political lectures are not allowed in the church.

I could have been an easy target for pickpockets as I squeezed through a crowd of photographers angling for a good shot of former national treasurer Leonor Briones expounding on billions of pesos allotted for pork barrel in the national budget.  She was speaking from the platform at the foot of giant image of Our Lady of Peace, and she was telling the crowd looking up from the ground how much of the various porks—the PDAF (Php25.2-B), special purpose fund (Php310-B), president’s social fund (Php2.6-B), automatic appropriation or off-budget--are distributed and released.  The special purpose and the social funds are all presidential perks.

The crowd was not as large as those that marched at Luneta on August 26.  It was estimated at more than 1,000 although more than 5,000 netizens signified participation through the Facebook account of the event organizers.

Shrine rules banned the use of banners, streamers and placards inside the premises but almost all wore T-shirts printed with anti-pork graphics and statements.  It was business as usual for vendors of protest T-shirts and souvenir items like pins and pork masks.

Obviously, many Luneta marchers stayed away because EDSA Tayo could have been too soon for a follow-up, and September 11 was not a friendly day for the working netizens.  It could also be the religious nature of the event that deterred people to come.

Netizen Junep Ocampo took off from the Million People March, which he said was a beautiful experience.  “Shall we stop there?,” he teased his Facebook friends in Pilipino. And the spark: “If you’re game, let’s continue pushing. Sa EDSA na tayo! September 11, tentatively, from sunrise until PNoy has abolished all forms of pork.”

Ocampo is a journalist by profession since 1989, and has covered major events for his paper including the state visit to China of Pres. Aquino and his attendance at the APEC Summit.  

W e asked him if there is a formal organization behind this EDSA Tayo. There’s just me and seven friends as core, he said, who thought about praying at the EDSA Shrine to sustain the Luneta initiative for the abolition of the pork.  The idea soon evolved into a prayer vigil with the religious sector signifying their cooperation.

Cardinal Tagle did not express support, he said.  It was Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo who wrote Fr. Nilo Mangusad, rector of the EDSA Shrine, to allow the use of the Shrine.  The letter was shared by Ocampo in his Facebook page.

“In this moment of uncertainty in our country, we need prayers and proper education to our people for guidance and strength,” the bishop wrote Fr. Nilo. “It is alright then to allow the use of the Shrine of EDSA to the EDSA Tayo Prayer Vigil ... This is on line [of] the call of CBCP [Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines] for the lay faithful to be vigilant and to stand for their rights for the good of the country. We also join in the call to abolish the pork barrel system in our government from the President to the barangay level.”

The inter-faith prayer vigil came after the noon mass and the lecture of Dr. Briones.  The program had Stand for the Poor! Abolish Pork Barrel! as theme, and it was presided by a religious, Fr Joe Dizon. Representatives from the Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu and indigenous people sectors delivered short prayers. Carmelite nuns, Hari Krishna believers, pop singer Darryl Shy and other sectoral singers provided music.  Later, the crowd rose with clenched fists to sing Bayan Ko to close the day’s program.

There was not much attention on the inter-faith activity onstage especially when activists shouted their slogans and unfurled their large streamer from the elevated road facing the shrine. Another distraction occurred when a contingent of activists with placards arrived. There was a minor scuffle when the police tried to prevent them from getting into the shrine premises. “Papasukin, papasukin! [Let them in!], the protesters howled, and they were let in, but were asked not to raise their placards.

If I did not have a copy of the program, I could have missed, like most of the crowd, the symbols offered by the inter-faith vigil participants:  the Philippine flag (nationalism), rice (prosperity and justice), white candle (truth), and graphic images of graft and corruption in the country. 

In his closing remarks, Ocampo told the crowd that he hopes the lighting of the candle today marks the start of prayer vigils around the country, citing Pagadian City and Jaro Cathedral having their prayer meetings too on this day.  He asked the people to join one at the Luneta on Friday, 13 September, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.  

He closed the program with the Panalangin sa Pagbuwag sa Sistema ng Pork Barrel [Prayer for the Abolition of the Pork Barrel System], which he and his core group prepared, copy of which, he said, can be downloaded from his Facebook account.

There is still the call for another march at the Luneta on 21 September.  It looks like there is still a long way to go for anti-pork advocates even as the Supreme Court has found that the pork may be unconstitutional and a TRO has been issued against the release of the remaining slices of pork for 2013.  

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