May 28, 2009

The launch of Pagbabago!

The founding assembly of the Pagbabago! People’s Movement for Change became the unintended launching pad for self-declared presidential wannabe, Paquito Yu, Paq for short. Actually, he is the group’s satirical mascot, the amalgamation of all that the people find laughable, irritating and downright pathetic in Philippine traditional politics and the cast of characters it breeds.

Paq gamely mixed with the crowd and gave interviews to the media even before the affair started. He insinuated himself in the program by climbing on stage and having a photo-op with guest speaker Archbishop Oscar Cruz, the young man who sang an inspirational song with indigenous instruments, and most especially with celebrity whistleblower, Engineer Jun Lozada.

He then delivered his quintessential political speech complete with giant cue cards that called for intermittent applause. His main platform was a dig at the Filipinos’ chase after greener pastures in the US of A: a strategy for getting the Philippines admitted as the 52nd state and forever banishing the need for Filipinos to submit themselves to the US embassy grinder in getting their much-sought-after US visa.

The media got the impression that Pagbabago! had endorsed Paq’s candidacy. Not true. Mother Mary John Mananzan, co-chairperson of Pagbabago!, categorically stated that it would remain non-partisan and refrain from endorsing any candidate as a group. Instead, it would draw up a “People’s Criteria” based on its 11-point program of substantive reforms. (Log on to On this basis it would measure candidates’ qualifications and track record and disseminate its evaluation widely as one of the group’s contributions to voters’ education.

The audience of founding members and guests lapped up Paq’s antics but paid even closer attention to the serious agenda for the day. For after all, they were there in earnest. From all walks of life – high and low, religious and lay, professors and students, activists and plain concerned citizens – they came. To affirm their yearning for meaningful change in Philippine society and politics and to organize a new movement that would capture the people’s imagination and move them to bring about real, lasting change.

The group’s leadership is a mix of human rights, peace and development advocates; political and social activists; anti-corruption and good governance crusaders; and artists and writers with a cause. In two months’ time, it’s membership roster grew to over a hundred. Professor Judy Taguiwalo, co-chairperson and University of the Philippines faculty regent, is confident that the movement will grow by leaps and bounds, not just in Metro Manila but in the provinces, as people learn about and identify with its ideals, objectives and the means with which it aims to shake up and change the status quo.

In their collective keynote address, the Organizing Committee emphasized that Pagbabago!, while born out of the broad movement to oust Mrs. Gloria Arroyo, seeks to go beyond that objective and answer a common question asked by many Filipinos: what government policies must be put in place for real change to take place and who should take the helm of leadership?

With their 11-point “People’s Agenda” and the vow to act as a “People’s Watchdog” before, during and after the 2010 elections, the group is girding itself for the long haul, in the fight for genuine change against the powerful who seek to perpetuate the status quo, amidst a climate of public cynicism and despair over traditional politics. It also sees non-traditional leaders arising out of the movement itself, in the dynamic and often unpredictable process of struggling against great odds to achieve our people’s aspirations and dreams.

Pagbabago! calls for internal change: for fellow Filipinos to shed backward and counter-productive ideas and ways such as being uncritical and unconcerned, passive and fearful , and most of all, inured and resigned to the way things are - no matter how wrong, no matter how bad.

The group warned that the 2010 elections could be derailed or disrupted by massive automated cheating or a designed-to-fail automated elections. It called for vigilance and action in the light of unrelenting efforts by Malacañang, through its allies in Congress, to railroad a change in the system of government that would allow Mrs. Arroyo to remain in power even after her term. It called attention to machinations by the Arroyo camp and its major co-conspirators among the elite such as the likes of Danding Cojuangco to engineer the most dire of scenarios, including emergency rule.

It sees Mrs. Arroyo’s political body language as indicative of her intention to cling to power despite the fact that hers is a lame duck administration considering that Mrs. Arroyo is constitutionally barred from seeking another term in office. The rising incidence of extrajudicial killings, abductions, illegal arrests and detention and the renewed filing of trumped-up cases against media and the Arroyo clique’s perceived enemies indicate that political repression is the regime’s answer to any and all serious efforts to institute change.

An agitated woman asked in the open forum, “Is this movement more than just talk?” while a more subdued man drew attention to scores of urban poor communities being demolished and people thrown willy nilly into the streets, asking what Pagbabago! offered them.

The reports presented by the Working Groups of Pagbabago! - organizing and education, research, “getting-the-message-across”, electoral and campaigns - reflected the commitment, hard work and creativity of the people at the core of the budding movement to translate the group’s aims and ideals into concrete action and output.

And while Pagbabago! has yet to prove its mettle in the day-to-day, life-and-death struggles of ordinary Filipinos, there can be no question as to its relevance, timeliness and potential to make a major contribution as a people’s movement for change. #


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