Marching streamer - Photo from Arkibongbayan


The July 25 SONA ng Bayan protests brought together some 10,000 more than 14, 000 people along Commonwealth Avenue, according to the reports obtained by Bayan from participating groups. The crowd was bigger than last year’s rally which numbered around 8,000. Police estimates for this year’s rally, as expected, was lower, at 6,500.

Before the march got underway, we had to appear before the QC Regional Trial Court for a hearing on our petition on Bayan’s application for a rally permit. The case was quite simple. Bayan applied for a rally permit for Batasan Road on July 25, and the City Government had two days to act on the application otherwise it is deemed granted. Two days passed and there was no action from the City government. Three days before the rally, we received a letter from the Department of Public Order and Safety that our application was denied and we were being referred to the football field in the City Hall compound. The denial was, in our belief, violates BP 880 and recent Supreme Court rulings on the right to peaceably assemble.

Our lawyers asserted that we had the right to march to Batasan Road but the city officials insisted that we would be causing traffic and that they had no time to make adjustments anymore. The judge appeared to mediate between the two parties. Without conceding our right to march to Batasan Road, we said that we would be amenable if the police barricade was moved back from the original position of St. Peter’s Church by up to 100 meters or so. The DPOS refused this compromise and said they would not budge from their established position. The hearing ended with no compromise reached.

It was therefore to our great surprise that the judge denied our petition for a Temporary Restraining Order and cited that both sides had agreed to a compromise. The judge did not rule on the merits of the case and simply said that both parties had reached an agreement on where to hold the rally.

Well, even without the TRO, the Bayan-led march was already able to march beyond St. Peter’s church. But the police were still there to block our path. It was the first time Bayan brought a case before a court and our lawyers are still discussing whether to appeal or not. In any case, having gone past the originally intended blockade, the Bayan forces settled and held the program.

A sizeable  international contingent joined the march, representing Bayan-USA, Intal-Beligum, and friends from Canada, New Zealand and Indonesia. The ILPS flag was carried by the international contingent.

 

State of the wang-wang address

The speech was basically peppered with populist rhetoric which at this point has become tiresome and overused. The overarching theme was the ‘wang-wang’, which Aquino views as the symbol of abuse and entitlement. But beyond the “wang-wang” metaphor, there was really not much the people could get from the SONA. It was underwhelming in its litany of so-called achievements, and disturbing in its glaring omission of pressing people’s issues.

The picture of the economy depicted by Aquino was very far from the reality experienced by ordinary Filipinos. The so-called increase in the stock market index or the improvements in the credit ratings are not things that translate to concrete benefits for the poor. These are mere indicators from the point of view of big business and the banks, and are not reflective of the state of the people. The fact that he chose to preface his SONA with stock indices and credit ratings shows what mindset Aquino has in terms of the economy.

Marchers near St. Peter's Church (Photo from http://www.bayan.ph)

The more than 50-minute speech ended without any mention of how government will generate new jobs, increase wages, create housing for the poor, implement land reform or even assuage the impact of price increases. It is still the same ‘pantawid’ programs that will be implemented in the next five years.

Aquino cited his accomplishment in terms of providing housing for police and soldiers but had nothing to offer for thousands of urban poor who are being displaced left and right in Metro Manila. Just two days before his SONA, two people were killed when residents and security guards clashed in a disputed area in Caloocan.

The president’s claim of an improved employment conditions is being disputed by analysts, since the jobs created were offset by the new additions to the labor force, and the increase in underemployment. There is also the assertion that the new jobs created were either temporary employment in the area of construction or are the result in the increase in the number of self-employed, something which the government cannot take credit for.

Aquino even made the outrageous claim that with the improved conditions, Filipinos can now choose between domestic and foreign jobs and not be tied to seeking work abroad.

“Dati, nakapako sa pangingibang-bansa ang ambisyon ng mga Pilipino. Ngayon, may pagpipilian na siyang trabaho, at hangga’t tinatapatan niya ng sipag at determinasyon ang kanyang pangangarap, tiyak na maaabot niya ito,” Aquino said in his SONA.

This claim has no basis in fact. More than a million Filipinos leave country each year to look for work abroad. Overseas deployment of Filipino workers in 2010 reached 1.47 million, still higher than the 2009 figure of 1.42 million. If there is a decrease in the growth rate of OFW deployment abroad, this is not because there are jobs being created here. The relative slowdown the deployment growth is the result of the global economic depression.

Aquino never bothered to outline how new jobs will be created. He did not say which sectors of society will generate employment, and how these will happen. He talked of a “job-skills mismatch” as if this was the principal reason why unemployment is so high. Even if government “corrects” the so-called mismatch allegedly affecting 50,000 available jobs monthly, this will not offset the number of unemployed (considering additions to the labor force every year).

What government needs to do is embark on a comprehensive program for genuine land reform and national industrialization to address the problems of poverty and unemployment. Government must strive to build a self-reliant economy. Relying on foreign investments for job creation will get us nowhere, as 30 years of experience will show. A self-reliant economy is even more urgent now that the US is on a brink of a debt default. We cannot continue to pin our hopes of progress on an economy that is grossly unstable and crisis-ridden.

Aquino seemed to talk tough when it came to the issue of sovereignty, particularly the Spratlys dispute. However, Aquino was deafeningly silent on sovereignty issues in relation to the United States, particularly the US troops and the Visiting Forces Agreement.

Tough-talk

The tough-talk on Spartlys was obviously anchored on the US having expressed a willingness to intervene in the dispute to protect its own economic and politico-military interests.  However, we’ve yet to see Mr. Aquino stand up for national sovereignty in relation to US violating our own sovereignty.

Aquino also made a big deal about the Philippine Navy’s new acquisition, Hamilton Class Cutter from the US Coast Guard.

“Literal na pong naglalakbay sa karagatan papunta rito ang kauna-unahan nating Hamilton Class Cutter, isang mas modernong barko na magagamit natin para mabantayan ang ating mga baybayin,”Aquino boasted. The boat Mr. Aquino was referring to is a Vietnam War-era boat commissioned in 1967 and decommissioned in March 2011 by the US Coast Guard. It is modern only in relation to the World War 2 era ships that our Navy still uses, but it is by no means modern, oh say in relation to uhm… China.

Aquino did not say anything about our OFW’s who are keeping economy afloat. Perhaps there were really no achievements on this front, considering the debacles faced by the government in the repatriation and evacuation of Fiipinos in Libya, Japan and other places. Also, citing any other accomplishment will only make VP Binay look good.

There were some bright spots in the speech, but these were few and far between. There was the certification of the Marcos victims compensation as an urgent bill. There was the appointment of a new Ombudsman.

Human rights advocates were again sorely disappointed when there was no substantial response to the issue yet again. In fact, compared to his last SONA when he at least gave some updates on cases of extrajudicial killings, this year’s speech only had a fleeting, token, solitary mention of extrajudicial killings.

Buo ang kumpiyansa ko na tinutupad ng Department of Justice ang malaki nilang bahagi upang maipiit ang mga salarin, lalo na sa mga kaso ukol sa tax evasion, drug trafficking, human trafficking, smuggling, graft and corruption, at extrajudicial killings.

EJK’s were mentioned along with a whole bunch of issues that the DOJ has to address. The Commander-in-Chief of the AFP is leaving it to the DOJ to solve the problems of extrajudicial killings. It’s clear that the president is not really interested in taking on human rights issues such as the enforced disappearances of Jonas Burgos, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, or the plight of the more than 300 political prisoners still languishing in jail, or the rising numbers of victims of extrajudicial killings under his watch.

It’s just irresponsible and insensitive and to pass all these issues to the DOJ, especially when the situation demands a strong response from the president. The AFP has not really cooperated and has consistently denied its involvement in gross human rights violations. Various rights groups have called on the president to intervene, but if the SONA is an indication, there’s none forthcoming.

It would be futile to look for more promised changes in Aquino’s next SONA a year from now. It has become increasingly clear that the change we seek will not come from the halls of Malacanang, but from the arduous struggle of the people asserting their national and democratic aspirations. ###

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  1. […] while not commenting on other substantial issues including the economy and human rights. The SONA protest was one of the biggest mass action for […]