“We now face the US-Duterte regime, imperialist tool in oppressing the Filipino people.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – On his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Duterte made another record first, as right after giving his two-hour official speech inside Congress, he walked straight outside to Batasan Road, to face thousands of protesters who had just spent the whole day criticizing his administration.
His appeal to activists has apparently waned, as Duterte faced a disaffected crowd, many of whom jeered and shouted as he walked into the stage surrounded by Presidential Security Guards (PSG).
The rallyists led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) got their chance to voice out to the President himself the slogans they have long chanted in past protests, such as, lift martial law in Mindanao, resume peace talks, free all political prisoners, make contractual workers regular, withdraw military troops from communities.
“Ano? Ano sinasabi?” Duterte would repeatedly say, in reaction to the occasional chanting.
“Meron kayong isyu, naintindihan ko. Alam ninyo ang posisyon ko. Alam ninyo na ginagawa ko ang lahat. Hindi ko sinasabi na tinatalikuran ko yan. (I know you have issues, you know I’m doing everything. I am not saying that I have turned my back on you),” said Duterte.
The President’s words failed to bring cheer to the protesters, nor did their slogans to him, as he berated them in a press conference he held afterwards. But his move did boost the groups’ confidence, as they said Duterte showed recognition of the growing strength of the progressive movement, whose ranks continue to increase and achieve gains in mass campaigns in the past year under his administration.
“For the first time, the President of the Philippines, the most powerful person in the country, went here because he acknowledged that our demands are legitimate,” said Teddy Casiño, Bayan spokesperson, after Duterte has left.
Though they have dwindled to only a few thousands when Duterte came out before 7 PM, the protesters’ ranks were in tens of thousands earlier in the day, as they converged along Commonwealth Avenue coming from various protest points in Metro Manila.
Simultaneous SONA protests were also held in key cities nationwide, including in Marawi City where evacuees marched to call for an end to martial law in Mindanao.
’Don’t ambush me’
Interrupted by the occasional chanting, the President said, “You can shout at me,” but asked the crowd to “keep the line open,” and not treat him as an enemy.
“E pati pa ako inaambush pa ninyo… walang ganunan. Pag ginanun ninyo ako, tatalikod na talaga ako… ba-bye na lang. Wala nang peace talks (But you ambushed me. If you do that, I will really turn my back on you),” he said.
Duterte was referring to the wounding of four PSG men who shot it out with New People Army (NPA) members who set up a checkpoint in Arakan, North Cotabato on July 19, in opposition to the martial law in the island. Following the incident, Duterte had called off the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Solicitor general Jose Calida had then ordered the re-arrest of the NDFP peace consultants freed on bail.
Casiño, speaking after Duterte left, said that the NDFP had denied making him a target, and that he was, in fact, not even in the remote distance of the place of incident.
Duterte may have heard their calls, but his response merely warded off, instead of addressing the issues.
Responding to the call to end the martial law in Mindanao, Duterte said he needs time to finish the conflict with the Dawlah Islamiyah in Marawi, which reportedly holds some 300 hostages.
On the call to push through with his promise to free all political prisoners, he said that the military will not allow such. Human rights group Karapatan documented 58 activists arrested under Duterte, while 34 were released on bail, presidential pardon or through legal efforts of their lawyers and families.
The latest political detainees were the eight youths who were arrested for protesting inside the Batasan plenary hall during the joint special session of Congress to voted for the extension of Mindanao martial law. They remain in detention in spite of their lawyers’ attempt to post bail because the police office in Camp Caringal was closed on July 24.
On contractualization, he assured that Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III is “the most Leftist” official and he will do something about it. Duterte also told the progressives to ask their “representatives” in government about reforms, referring to his appointees, former mass leaders Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and National Anti-Poverty Commission chairperson Liza Maza.
The three Cabinet officials were also in the rally earlier. “You can depend on us to continue to push for and discuss (with the Cabinet) the legitimate and just calls of the Filipino people,” said Mariano.
The SONA protesters: the contractual workers, the jobless, the evacuees, the families of victims of war on drugs
Among the protesters are contractual workers, government employees and professionals, landless farm workers from Central and Southern Luzon, unemployed urban poor whose homes are threatened with demolition. There were also relatives of political prisoners arrested in the past year under Duterte, as well as detainees recently freed on the strength of their case. Also present were relatives of drug suspects killed in the War on Drugs.
The President’s bold gesture to face the SONA protesters failed to lessen their discontent, as they have heard part of his speech inside Congress, which mentioned nothing about the change that the progressives want to see: justice for human rights victims, genuine land reform, national industrialization, independent foreign policy.
Worse, in his SONA, Duterte said the Lumad from Mindanao “should go home.” Among the protesters were some 200 Lumad peasants, students and teachers who recently evacuated due to military operations from their communities in Surigao del Sur and Davao del Norte. In his press conference after talking to the protesters, Duterte reiterated his statement, as he denigrated the alternative Lumad schools as “teaching subversion, communism” and threatened to drop bombs on them.
One such school, the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Development, or Alcadev, is a government-certified school for the Lumad which has sent its graduates to college, or to serve as volunteer para-teachers, agriculturists or health workers in the communities. It has been persistently under attack by the military which calls it “an NPA school,” a line now echoed by Duterte.
‘We now face the US-Duterte Regime’
During the program earlier, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said last year’s optimism about the Duterte regime is gone. He cited how the President’s economic managers merely continued policies that favor business investors at the expense of the economy which remains stunted, and the people who are mired in worsening poverty. He cited how economic officials are against additional pension for SSS, free tuition for state universities and colleges, and ending contractualization. On the other hand, such officials favor increased excise tax on basic goods.
“The real state of the nation is the deepening crisis of the semi-colonial, semi-feudal system. The real state of the nation is the devastated city of Marawi. The real state of the nation is the half-a-million evacuees in Iligan and other parts of Mindanao,” he said.
Reyes also cited the increasing militarism of the Duterte administration, citing the extension of martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31 this year, which was approved by the joint special session of Congress on July 22. He also warned of a possibility of its being imposed nationwide.
He said Duterte’s measures fits well with the design of the US government for the Philippines, as he has allowed the continuation of the joint PH-US military exercises, the increased role of US troops in the Marawi conflict, and the spoiling of the peace talks by militarist officials.
“Mga kasama, mga kapatid, tunay ngang kaharap natin ngayon ang rehimeng US-Duterte, kasangkapan ng imperyalismo sa pang-aapi sa mamamayang Pilipino (Comrades, we now face the US-Duterte regime, imperialist tool in oppressing the Filipino people),” said Reyes.
This was depicted in the main SONA effigies, which showed Duterte with an iron fist, followed closely by an Army tank with Uncle Sam, Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on board. Uncle Sam, symbolizing the US, has a bloodied hand and appears to be patting the Duterte effigy and the bloody Presidential Seal.
The effigies were supposed to be burned on Batasan Road, but this was thwarted with Duterte’s gesture. Instead, the flat, plywood effigy of Bayan-Southern Tagalog showing a two-sided Duterte — with the “Leftist” image on one side with his raised fist, and his Hitler likeness on the other — was beaten up and dismantled to pieces.
“Kanino tayo mananalig? Kanino tayo aasa? Walang ibang maaasahan ngayon kundi ang sama-samang pagkilos at paglaban. Sama-sama nating haharapin ang anumang pasistang teror na ihahasik ni Duterte (On whom will we trust? On whom will we rely? There is nothing to depend on now but our collective action and resistance. Let us face together whatever fascist terror Duterte will sow),” Reyes said.
(Updated July 25, 1:45 AM and 10:30 AM)