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One Filipina’s social media activism (and how it shaped the Aug. 26 protest)


Roman Catholic priest Fr. Robert Reyes, second from left, prepares to run blindfolded along with supporters to protest the pork barrel scandal Friday in Manila. AP

Peachy Rallonza Bretana’s social activism has followed a pattern: she saw something on Facebook and got really mad.

That’s what happened when she came across the clip of the crying, dancing boy on Willie Revillame’s TV show two years ago.

It happened again this month when she began reading the posts about some little known, somewhat obscure government program called the Priority Development Assistant Fund.

“There’s not much difference in the way it started,” she told me in an email. “You see/read something on YouTube and online then you become so angry that you vent out your anger and disgust online by sharing to your friends. Both the Revillame case and this PDAF scam stemmed from the way they affected me on a personal level.

“As in: Gigil na gigil ka sa galit.”

Actually, there is one difference.

The Revillame case, which sparked outrage so vehement it caused the show to be suspended and created a heightened awareness around the way children are treated on TV, was triggered by a clip that Peachy says was “instantly revolting.”

The anger related to the pork barrel controversy, however, took a little longer to boil over.

It started with a stream of news stories and blogs and the comments. Then the Commission on Audit report came out which was followed by a post calling for a “Million People March” against the pork barrel system.

Peach saw that.

“When I shared it, a friend called me up and said, ‘Sige let’s go! That snowballed before Friday night ended,” she said.

And it kept snowballing. The buzz kept getting stronger. And louder.

And pretty soon, she found herself at the center of a protest movement – an ambitious protest movement.

That’s because Peachy and her loose network of friends on Facebook and beyond, including concerned Filipinos in the U.S., are trying to mobilize people without any central organization or structure. There won’t even be a stage or a program.

People are being asked to come out to hold “pocket picnics” at the Luneta as a way of expressing their anger over corruption.

It’s a tough task. In fact, Peachy herself acknowledges it’s probably crazy.

“I know I was just a loudmouthed ‘netizen’ who had the audacity to ask my friends to come along with me to protest which just turned out was their same sentiment all along,” she told me. “I am crazy and naive, yes. I wanted my friends to be as crazy as me.”

A message thread on Facebook, in which I was looped in, underscored the challenge of organizing a big protest that’s not supposed to look like other big protests.

“People are averse to it becoming a rally with a stage and all,” Peachy said in one message.

“There really is no group organizing this. It’s pure people’s initiative and need to be with like-minded people. It is snowballing at great speed because of the appeal that everyone has a stake in the Million People March. Thus, no one wants any group, any group’s banner, any color or even personalities.”

Naturally, there are groups that don’t buy it, who see some hidden agenda in the protest action.

“Someone sent me a PM [private message] accusing me of fronting for a group or whatever,” Peachy says in another message. “I’m a reluctant host here but taking it on as far as I can.”

In fact, this was how the anti-pork protest is different from the Revillame case, she said.

Apparently, there’s so much at stake in what’s supposed to happen that some political groups and personalities have been trying to figure out who’s behind it, perhaps to figure out how to manipulate it.

Peachy said she started getting “a deluge of friend requests and private messages asking me who the organizer is, or accusing me of being a front to someone or some group.”

“The most accusatory were the ‘reds’ and the ‘yellows’” she told me. “That was exhausting. And it still is.”

But somehow, she has pushed on, propelled by the rage over what the scandal has exposed, and some disillusionment with President Aquino whom she supported.

“I’ll be honest with you Boying, I’m middle,” Peachy continued in an email.” I want to work within the system. I question and am not totally into this presidency, but I started out with big hopes. I am naive that way. And hopeful still. But I know that if the system doesn’t work, I will be the first to shout and complain and magkalampag and that is why I did this. IN ANGER AND FRUSTRATION.”

Back to the Facebook message thread, she stressed: “This gathering should still be colorless with no organizer because each one of us is actually the organizer.”

But at one point, the stress of organizing a colorless demonstration seemed overwhelming.

“Tried sleeping but still can’t,” she said another time. But then she also declared, “Hindi na people power. People empowerment na.”

And as more reports of people getting ready for the Luneta “picnic” and more messages of support popped up on the thread, a more hopeful post:

“People are organizing, on their own, nationwide city events na,” Peachy said. “People are stepping up.”

And even though Aquino finally also called for the scrapping of PDAF, the Aug. 26 demonstration is still on.

“Gathering will still push through for the demand for transparent investigation and prosecution of those guilty of misusing pork,” she told me.

After all, she noted on the message thread, scrapping the PDAF is not exactly the same as getting rid the corrupt pork barrel system itself.

“We have more to say,” she told her group on Friday. “We demand transparency.”

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Tags: Congress , Graft and corruption , PDAF , Peachy Rallonza Bretana , Pork Barrel , Protest , Social Activism , Social Media

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