MANILA, OCTOBER 7, 2013 (INQUIRER) The Second Million People March that converged at the corner of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas in Makati City on Friday failed on important counts—but succeeded where it counted the most: It kept up the pressure on the government to fully abolish the pork barrel in all its forms. It brought people back into the streets. It happened.

In terms of sheer number, the turnout was disappointing. The logistical decisions made—to time the rally at the end of the working week, to site it in the middle of the central business district—were designed to attract as many people, especially the middle class who populate Makati City during office hours.

But only about 3,000 people showed up, including a sizable delegation from Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and other leftist organizations.

As Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes wrote in his blog, “The Left brought in people early to the Ayala rally, occupying a huge space that was there when the program was about to start and the Makati employees had not arrived.”

In terms of movement unity, the flurry of behind-the-scenes activity at the rally was disconcerting. To cite only one instance: Co-organizer Peachy Bretaña, who was abroad, asked via Facebook that the video message she had prepared not be shown at the rally anymore; hurried calls from friends changed her mind, and the video was played. Why did she consider withdrawing the video? Journalist-turned-change-activist Inday Espina Varona summed it up in a Facebook note: “In Peachy’s case, it was info coming in saying the rally was going to end with a call for PNOY’s ouster.”

There are other concerns to consider in the conduct and outcome and aftermath of the Oct. 4 protest, but it is this hint of a dividing line, involving President Aquino, that defines the antipork movement at this stage.

“Personally, I am not calling for the ouster or resignation of P-Noy. What I want is for P-Noy to listen,” political satirist Mae Paner, better known as “Juana Change,” told the Inquirer. In his lengthy and revealing blog post, Reyes declared, “Aquino is THE biggest hindrance to the removal of the pork barrel system” (emphasis his). And yet both Paner and Reyes played key roles in the Oct. 4 protest.

It is only reasonable to assume that one reason for the drop-off in participation from the 100,000-plus who trooped to Rizal Park on Aug. 26 for the first Million People March and the 3,000 who went to Ayala last Friday has to do with popular perception about Mr. Aquino and his role in the removal of the pork barrel system. Is the President in fact help or hindrance?

Many people may have stayed away because they did not appreciate what sociologist Randy David described in his column yesterday as “the deliberate attempt to redirect public outrage and focus it on President Aquino.” As a “netizen” quoted in an Inquirer post-rally story phrased it, in Filipino: “There are anti-P-Noy [protesters] here, that’s why only a few joined [the protest].”

This is not to say that the public does not hold Aquino accountable; it may be that further revelations about the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program will seriously damage the President’s popularity, or that the intended fallout from Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s privilege speech needs more time to reach and irradiate the Palace.

But it may also be that the public, contrary to the expectations of political operators and observers alike, does see through all the clutter and confusion of the last few weeks. Perhaps it knows that all pork must go, even that of the President’s, but it also recognizes the distinction between the use of pork as political resource and as source of corruption.

The antipork movement faces a crossroads, then. It is possible that it can attract many more citizens disgusted with the pork barrel system to its protests (which we believe must continue), but only if it assumes that not all politicians are alike, that some are in fact corrupt and have grown fat on pork.

One possible problem (and a reason why some protesters fear a “hijacking” of the movement by much more experienced, much more disciplined leftist groups) is fundamental: The Left understands a rally’s “common theme” in a specific way.

“The common theme or call is not a ceiling or a cap. It is the minimum basis of unity for holding the event,” Reyes explained in his blog. But others understand the theme the other way around; it is the maximum basis for holding an event, otherwise protesters will be seen as supporting other demands they had not agreed on.

Decisions need to be made, and not only about logistics.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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