“Parmeken ti kinababoy, ibalud dagiti birkog!”
That, dear karikna, was the cry of hundreds of Ilocanos who joined the anti-pork barrel gathering held at the Aurora Freedom Park last Monday, Aug. 26. Dubbed as the Pork O’Clock March, the gathering drew representatives from various sectors to peacefully but loudly express indignation against mammoth government corruption. Incidentally, this rally for the abolition of the pork barrel was staged near the monument marking the abolition of the tobacco monopoly in 1882.
Like the Million People March in Luneta and other protest activities around the country, the Laoag event did not have any organizers, only facilitators. I and a couple of other writers met Friday, three days before the event, to talk about how the Ilocano voice can be heard in what was already looming as a nationwide day of protest. We in this part of the country are often perceived as passive on issues, but no, not this time, we said. We know that Ilocanos are as furious as the rest of our countrymen, only that there is no avenue where we could express our collective fury.
We broached the idea on Facebook, and word spread quickly. Then I saw a post by Lenville Salvador, who belongs with Bayan Muna, also urging his friends to organize a rally. I immediately sent a message to Lenville asking him if we could consolidate our efforts. “Good idea,” he said. We agreed that the event will be a citizens’ march devoid, as much as possible, of political color.
The likes, comments and shares of social media were very encouraging, and one immediately sensed a hunger among us Ilocanos for opportunities to participate in the national discourse. While many pledged to attend the event, those who could not, especially overseas Ilocanos, lent their moral support and prayers.
I never directly invited anyone, not my students, not even my family. I assumed that in this era of connectivity, word will go around and somehow they would know about the event. When I saw a Facebook post by a group of students eagerly signifying their participation, I asked them if they could work on the main banner. I told them it does not have to be fancy as long as it is readable. They had a spray paint. I had some cloth.
“Para sa Bayan”
I met the group—a barkada of seven male teenagers—and gave them the white cloth. “What do we write, sir?” they asked. “Makaammo kayon” (Bahala na kayo) I told them. It was 2:00 p.m., two hours before the event.
The cloth was huge and so they had to lay it out outdoors. But then it began to drizzle. It was raining, and they were getting drenched, but the boys decided to continue working on the streamer. “Para sa bayan,” they said. And I was touched, I had goose bumps. These boys–who in their free time would usually play DoTa, hang out in malls, and enjoy other activities normal teenagers do—were there in act of sacrifice. It was not normal to willingly get wet under an unforgiving rain, but they knew very well that it was not a normal day.
At 3:30 p.m., the banner was ready. It read, in shades of red, yellow, and blue—the colors of our national flag—“Kontra Baboy, No to Pork!” By that time, the rains have stopped, and thank God!
The Aurora Freedom Park crowd was an interesting mix—youth, senior citizens, academe, the religious, health, business, the working class, bikers, and more. Some came individually, others in groups. It was touching to see families come together, parents bringing their little kids. The people were angry because of greed and corruption but the mood was jovial and peaceful.
There were also members of leftist groups invited by Lenville. Most of them were from Ilocos Sur, and they came with their placards and rehearsed chants. They had to do what they had to do, and although common folks felt uneasy when the progressive groups began to shout their usual “Ibagsak!” slogans, all was well. (I admire these brave souls, and wish them well in their noble fight against black sand mining in their province.
Almost everyone wore pig snouts made of paper cups and garter. Some spoted shirts with protest messages and designs. Steve Barreiro brought a one-dimensional pig image made of plywood.
The police gave a conservative crowd estimate of 300, which means there could have been more. This, of course, does not include the number of motorists who blew their horns to express solidarity with the protesters.
Students from various universities came in droves. Northwestern University (NU) was very visible. A number of their faculty members showed up, among them were Spider Rodas and Shermon Cruz (who served as emcees), Anton Villanueva, and Karl Lenin Benigno. Their Vice President for Administration, Ferdie Nicolas, was there. NU President Liza Nicolas reportedly joined the Luneta March.
Dr. Francis Ranada of the Ranada General Hospital came with his family. Then there was a man standing silently at the back. He looked familiar but I am not sure who he was. It turned out to be Dr. Paulino Victorino Sistoza who owns the Laoag City Multi-Medical Diagnostic Center. Both doctors delivered speeches. Rex Belli Alejandro, a philosophy professor, represented a bikers’ group.
Couple Ace and Katrina Mandac, the most sought-after events stylists in town, came in their specially designed white shirts. Katrina joined a group of youth at the foot if the bridge in initiating a noise barrage. She had the energy of a teenager.
Pastor Sadiri Gumpad of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and priests from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente were there. Priests and nuns from the Roman Catholic Church, which was reportedly benefitted by the pork barrel system, were conspicuously absent.
In her usually lively manner, Tina Tan (http://blauearth.com) articulated her opposition against ‘pork.’ The irony, the famous blogger and eco-adventure advocate said, is that she has been writing about longganisa, bagnet, and other Ilocano pork dishes for years. Tina took photographs of the event, and while panning her camera, she saw someone familiar. Her son Eugene, a college student, was holding the main streamer.
Efren S. Mateo of San Nicolas, a reader-turned-friend, was there all throughout. Teacher Ritchelle Balanco-Dejolde, popularly known as Skyblue on FM radio, expressed her sentiments in one line: Let those pigs fry in their own stinky fat! Among other speakers I remember were Emile Tanagon, a youth leader from Batac, Teacher George Manuel of Solsona, and Dominic Tunac from San Nicolas. There were a lot more kind souls whose names escape my poor memory, including passers-by who started as usiseros but, after listening to the speeches, ended up actively participating in the activities as well. Members of the media were in full force to cover the event, and I know that, on a personal level, they were also one with us in the cause.
Lest I forget, my beloved Lady Jaja Colleen—a Maltese-Shih Tzu-Japanese Spitz mixed breed—also showed us her support. With a pig snout mask, she looked like a hairy piglet. But Jaja, unlike our lawmakers’ pork, was well loved.
In between the short-but-fiery speeches, the Ilocos AllStar (of the Ilocos Music Artists Society, a group nurtured by Spider who works as communication officer at NU and radio DJ at 99.5 iFM) wowed the crowd with their freestyle rapping. I was amazed. Naglaingda! They were superb both in how they performed and the how they crafted their messages spontaneously. As a writer, I was fascinated with their word play.In addition, Claver Rellama, a computer science student from a state university, wowed the crowd with his seamless beatboxing. Glad to have met these real artists of the people, mga tunay na artista ng bayan, lumaban!
Alone no more
The biggest achievement of the Aurora Park gathering was in making Ilocanos realize that they do not have to feel alone anymore. That they do not have to be angry individually. That there is no reason to be afraid. That they can be heard if only they come together. Meanwhile, the rest of the nation learned that, yes, there is an Ilocano voice