Million People March at the Luneta Park last August 26. Except for a small overnight picket against the irregularities in the election of our university president back in 2007, I have never been to a mass protest as historic as this. I’ve never witnessed EDSA I, II, or III, and have always distanced myself from militant rallies during annual SONA or Labor Day. To be with like-minded people who are fed up with government corruption, graft, and malversation of public funds invigorates my citizenship. For years, I yearned to be part of something substantial to nation-building apart from my daily mission inside the halls of learning.
I really thought that everyone’s participation would create the change we were all expecting.
Now, a few days after, I am irate over the effect of this pork barrel mess and this Million People March had in Filipinos. I thought these events would be a catalyst that would make the general public more aware and informed, and thereby putting them in a better position to express their disgust against government irregularities and suggest better means of governance and national management.
It all began when some fool who attended the Million People March took a photo of the billboard showing the cost of the Luneta Flagpole renovation, which was priced at P7.8 million. Once the photo made it online, it was only a matter of time before more fools quickly pounced on this scoop like rabid dogs, accussing the government of overpricing a mere flagpole project and being insensitive to the plight and suffering of poor Filipinos by coming up with this “lavish” project.
In no time, the netizens flocked to these peddlers of misinformation and speculation, voicing out their opinion against “alleged” malversation of public funds without as much as cross referencing and doing background check on the information presented in social media. By night fall, this issue was making the rounds in prime time national news programs and news websites, each peddling their own resource person citing why the project is allegedly “overpriced”.
In the Manila Bulletin, they called on a structural engineer from multinational firm Arup to comment on the issue. According Engineer Rudolfo Mendoza Jr., the project is “grossly overpriced”. Quoting from MB.com.ph.
“He cited a similar project that required more rigorous specifications for the foundations. He said the cost for the foundation, labor and transport for a two-meter thick, 20- meter high unipole for a billboard only cost P2 million back in 2000.”
In the same Manila Bulletin article, Archbishop Broderick Pabillo was quick to declare the project as “overpriced”. Archbishop Angel Lagdameo was also quick to dip his fingers on the issue, saying that “the funds that will be spent in the flagpole is an abuse of money.”
Some netizens called the flag pole project “a false sense of pride”, emphasizing that while the new flag pole will restore the original Independence Flag Pole built in 1946, it is undeniable that the pole itself was manufactured in China which currently is at odds with the Philippines due to the Scarborough Shoal and Spratlys Islands dispute. But there is an even bolder attack from a blog which got sophisticated by employing knowledge of the flag pole industry (obviously ripped from websites of American flag pole manufacturers) through some half-baked research. While it didn't describe the project as “overpriced”, its so-called “evidence” left plenty to the reader’s imagination that it was indeed.
That’s just about everything that makes me irate about this pole of contention. I am irate because this pork barrel mess has instilled mass hysteria among Filipinos. That even a necessary and transparent public works project such as replacing the Luneta Park flagpole is being viewed with doubt without so much as looking for factual information on the issue.
How can a structural engineer (an even an archbishop for that matter) declare a project as overpriced without possessing as much as blueprints and project specifications from the project engineer or the contractor, without so much as complete bidding documents from the Bids and Awards Committee, or even a copy of the audit report from the Commission on Audit. Isn’t it that if this project is indeed overpriced the Commission would have been quick to make a report about it to the president? What the DPWH and the DOT should’ve done is to at least include in the billboard the breakdown of the expenses which could’ve avoided the brouhaha in the first place.
How can netizens attack the manufacturing of the pole in China when the Rizal Monument itself was made in Switzerland? Will a Chinese-made flag pole diminish our nationalism even if a Swiss-made monument hasn't? We are merely being hypocritical and xenophobic here, inflamed by tensions in the West Philippine Sea. There is no reason to argue about the flagpole’s source since most goods today come from multinational sources.
Now, on the argument that the project is very untimely considering the recent onset of Typhoon Maring and the floods it brought or the argument that the project is “lavish” and insensitive to the plight of poor Filipinos who could have benefited from the P7.8 million cost of the project, I have this to say: We have other agencies for that. It is the very reason why we have Department of Social Welfare and Development, the National Anti-Poverty Commission, and other related agencies who budget is for poverty alleviation and disaster response. The budget of the Department of Tourism and the National Parks Development Committee is solely for tourism infrastructure and endeavors that promote tourism in the Philippines.
Now, just because we have around 2.5 million Filipinos below the poverty line, does this mean were gonna stop funding projects that restore the beauty of our national parks and promote our culture and history? If you’re saying yes right now, then we should immediately recommend the closing of the Luneta Park and all other recreational spaces operated by the NPDC simply because their budget would've been better spent on the poor. Moreover, the government should just close the National Museum and all other depositories of our national identity and culture simply because their budget would've been better spent on the poor!
Come to think of it, comparing the 2.5 million Filipinos below the poverty line with the rest of 92 million Filipinos above it, were not that poor after all. Were not like Somalia or any other third world country which has a huge majority of their population below the poverty line! The Philippines is already one of the Next 11 countries for Christ’s sake! These 2.5 million dependents should be helping themselves cross that line instead of relying on dole outs from the taxpayers’ money.
For me, it’s worth spending P7.8 million for the National Flag Pole of the Philippines as part of the overall overhaul of the Luneta Park in time for the death anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal. The general public are, in fact, reaping the benefits now of a better Luneta Park with all its new lights, fountains, and sounds. Imagine the other benefits Luneta Park will reek from this flag pole once it is erected.
Yes, some blogger could argue that people might forget about this flag pole and its significance a few years after it is erected, or that the entire park will be just another recreational area after its renovation is complete. But, just take the example of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. When it was erected during the Marcos regime, people of that time were quick to label it as “pomp” and “extravagance”. Now, look at the contributions of that complex to the promotion of our culture and history!
Spending P7.8 million for a flagpole that might be forgotten sooner or later is not an error in the judgment of the government or the people behind this project. It is an error in the judgment of ordinary people who failed to see the significance of these pantheons and edifices as symbols of our country’s colorful past and culture. We need these pantheons and edifices because of the very fact that our people easily forget their past and because we need something to look up to and believe about our nation despite all the falsehood and treachery going around today. TSS