Here it is, my list of the Top 10 mass movement moments of 2011. These are events that are memorable, significant in terms of national impact, and representative of victories for the mass movement. As always, this is a personal list, in no particular order of importance or ranking. I encourage folks to make their own list so we can all take stock of what we had done the past year.
This was a year of struggles and triumphs. An even more exciting year looms as the people push hard for justice and genuine change.
1. The fight to hold Arroyo accountable – Justice and accountability were key issues for the mass movement this year. Topping that list is the demand to jail Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Several lawsuits against GMA were filed this year by various groups, from plunder to human rights violations. Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, seen as Arroyo’s first line of defense, was impeached then later resigned in the face of intense public pressure. GMA almost made good her escape with the Aquino government still unable to file charges in court after 500 days in power. At the last minute, before the SC could uphold its TRO on Arroyo’s Watchlist Order, the Comelec filed before the Pasay RTC a non-billable case of election sabotage. At this time, public clamor to hold GMA accountable was at an all-time high and it would have been disastrous for the Aquino government if it would still have nothing to show for all its anti-corruption rhetoric. For only the second time in 10 years, a former president was arrested, mug shots taken then detained. Still, GMA has not been made to account for her many other crimes against the people as the Aquino government has yet to file charges concerning gross human rights violations and the massive election fraud of 2004. The fight to hold GMA accountable, and the massive pressure on the Aquino government to make good on his promise, has opened up another front in the worsening political crisis. The year ends with the Chief Justice impeached, the Senate convened as an impeachment court, and critics anxious and wary of moves that would make Aquino exercise tremendous control over the Supreme Court in the future.
2. The Luisita farmers score legal victory in SC – Seven years after the infamous Hacienda Luisita massacre, the farmers of this vast sugar estate finally won a significant legal victory before the Supreme Court. The SC, in a unanimous vote, ordered the distribution of land to the more than 6,000 farmer beneficiaries of Luisita. The implementation of this order is not going to be easy and the HLI management has filed a motion for reconsideration and clarification. Issues of compensation for the Cojuangco family have also created problems for land distribution. In any case, the organized farmers continue to assert their right to till the land and the occupation of hundreds of hectares of agricultural land continues. The next round in the struggle will be the actual distribution of land.
3. The fight for justice for human rights victims – 2011 is the year human rights victims landed a strong counterstrike against the human rights violators of the past regime. The Morong 43 and the United Methodist Church slapped GMA with a civil suit for human rights violations. The parents of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno went after Gen. Jovito Palparan. Political prisoners nationwide pressed for their freedom despite claims of a Palace spokesperson that they did not exist. The family of slain botanist Leonard Co also filed charges against members of the 19th IB in Leyte for the killing of Co and his two companions Sofronio Cortez and Julius Borromeo. Before the year ended, Palparan was a wanted fugitive after a Malolos court issued a warrant for his arrest on kidnapping charges. The Butcher is the highest military official to be charged in connection to human rights violations. As of this posting, he remains at large.
4. People’s SONA 2011– This was the second SONA of Aquino as he observes his first year in office as president. Some 17,000 marched along Commonwealth Avenue to protest the absence of any meaningful change under Aquino’s so-called “daang matuwid”. A giant “Penoy” on board a Hummer was the centerpiece of the march. The crowd reacted negatively to Aquino’s worn-out and continuing reference to the “wang-wang” as a symbol of entitlement, while not commenting on other substantial issues including the economy and human rights. The SONA protest was one of the biggest mass action for 2011.
5. Protests against budget cuts, “Occupy Mendiola” – This year saw students and teachers again striking against cuts in the education budget and other social services. They marched to Mendiola and other public squares nationwide and engaged Aquino apologists in heated debates over the nature and existence of the cuts. Towards the end of the year, students attempted to set up camp at the Mendiola Bridge. Two attempts were violently dispersed by the Manila Police, reinforced by police from other cities and regions. Several were arrested, scores were injured. The overkill security deployment seemed to stem from so-called intel reports received by the PNP regarding the conduct of the activity. It was later learned that the intel reports were merely taken from Facebook and given a different spin by the police. The events at Occupy Mendiola showed that the Aquino regime could be just as ruthless and repressive as the Arroyo regime when it comes to street protests. It is a lesson that the mass movement will take to heart as it gears for bigger battles ahead.
6. Relief ops for Pedring and Sendong victims – The mass movement put in tremendous effort this year to aid victims of typhoons Pedring and Sendong. Central Luzon was severely battered by rains and floods from Pedring, with huge parts of Bulacan, Pampanga submerged. Various groups took the initiative to raise funds and relief goods for distribution to affected areas. But before the year ended, the nation was shocked to see the devastation wrought by Sendong on Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Negros Oriental. The mass movement again mobilized people and resources for the victims of the deadliest storm for 2011. A lot of work still needs to be done for the victims of Sendong, with relief and rehab operations continuing for the first few months of 2012.
7. People stop MRT/LRT fare hike – The first quarter of 2011 saw the mass movement locking horns with the Aquino government on the issue of fare increases for the MRT and LRT. We attended hearings, protested on train terminals and campaigned furiously against the unjust and anti-people increase. While the LRTA has approved the fare hike, its implementation has been stalled because of public resistance. This is an important victory that continues to benefit hundreds of thousands of MRT/LRT commuters.
8. People pay tribute to Ka Roger – In October this year, the CPP announced that the long-time spokesperson of revolution, the voice of the people Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal had passed away in July. There was an outpouring of tributes for Ka Roger, from lightning rallies in public spaces to a nationwide gun salute by the NPA on October 11. On October 15, more than 2,500 people gathered at the University of the Philippines Theater in Diliman to pay tribute to Ka Roger. Present were friends from the media, former government officials and members and consultants of the NDF and GRP peace panels along with the relatives of Ka Roger who travelled from Ibaan, Batangas. A DVD of this memorable event is now available.
9. Protests vs Hillary Clinton – US Secretary of State Clinton’s second visit to the Philippines was met with all sorts of protests. Marches to the US embassy, to Mendiola bridge along with several smaller but high-impact actions. For the first time in the Philippines, the convoy of a US official was stopped by protesters. Paint bombs were hurled at the SUV. Lastly, let’s again give a hand to Marjohara Tucay for standing up and protesting during the Clinton forum at the National Museum. That was an awesome thing to do.
10. Mining firms shut down by NPA– This event made the front pages and headlines of so many media outlets and reverberated even overseas. Three large foreign-owned mining firms were simultaneously raided by the NPA and their operations were stopped. By some coincidence, the documentary show Reporter’s Notebook had earlier done a story on one of the mining firms which showed the extent of damage done by Nickel Asia to the surrounding environment. The docu called “Philippines for Sale” was released a day after the NPA raid. The documentary also showed that the Aquino government was already aware of the destruction caused by the mining firm. The event once again brought to the fore the issue of mining and its effects on communities. A peace advocacy group called on the government to resume peace talks with the NDFP so that the issue of mining can be tackled in the second substantive agenda on socio-economic reforms.
My list of mass movement moments of course are for events that happened in the Philippines. But if you look at the global context, 2011 was the year of people’s uprisings and upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East. It was the year of “Occupy Wall Street” and the “occupy movement” that spread worldwide. 2011 was also the year of Wikileaks when the entire trove of cables were finally made public. Right now, our brothers and sisters in Egypt are continue to protest to push the revolution forward. Working peoples in Europe, the US and Latin America have stood up against massive social cutbacks. TIME magazine itself was forced to recognize “The Protester” as its person of the year. But “The Protester” is fighting not for an annual recognition by the corporate media. He/She is fighting for something more fundamental, more basic and more urgent. So expect “The Protester” to be back next year with a greater resolve to fight for change and a brighter future. ###