“This is not the time for us to rest from our struggle. Today marks a new chapter in our struggle.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Thousands of members of progressive groups gathered at Chino Roces bridge (former Mendiola bridge) June 30, not to protest, but to show unity and support for a People’s Agenda, and to welcome newly-inaugurated President Rodrigo Duterte who took his oath of office in Malacañang.
The groups came from Metro Manila, the regions of Northern, Central and Southern Luzon, and even from Mindanao, with hopes high for the new government, after six years of what they called “corrupt, inutile and callous” government of former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.
After Duterte’s speech, leaders of the progressive groups had a chance to personally hand the 15-point People’s Agenda to him inside Malacañang. Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said they were warmly welcomed inside the Presidential Palace. In a 40-minute meeting, they discussed several national issues, including contractualization, large-scale destructive mining, land reform and the release of political prisoners on humanitarian grounds.
“He wants peace and national unity to be his legacy. He is serious about finding a solution to the armed conflict,” said Reyes in his official social media account.
Struggle does not end
With high hopes comes a call for vigilance among activists, to make sure that genuine change will materialize.
“Hindi ngayon ang panahon na tayo magpapahinga sa ating pakikibaka sa kalsada. Ngayong araw na ito ay ang panibagong yugto ng ating pakikibaka (This is not the time for us to rest from our struggle. Today marks a new chapter in our struggle),” said Reyes.
Reyes noted Duterte’s positive pronouncements in his inauguration speech. He lauded Duterte’s willingness to listen to the people. “Sino mang pangulo na nais magtagumpay ay dapat na makinig sa mamamayan (Any president who wants to succeed must listen to the people),” said Reyes.
Reyes said they will intensify their struggle to achieve the genuine change that Filipinos are all longing for. He said there are forces that will hinder President Duterte from making these reforms possible.
“Capitalists will surely be against ending contractualization, landlords will oppose free distribution of lands. We will not end our struggle. We will continue to support the progressive and nationalist policies of the President and fight those who oppose them,” said Reyes.
Duterte’s first day as president also marks Aquino’s last day in office. While many were happy with Duterte’s positive pronouncements, they were also elated with the end of the Aquino administration. The progressives called on Duterte to hold Aquino accountable for the long list of “sins” committed against the people.
“The day has finally come, when Aquino loses his immunity from suits,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general.
“With 307 extrajudicial killings, 30 cases of enforced disappearance and more than a hundred thousand victims of forced evacuation, torture and illegal arrests, Aquino should be
immediately jailed,” Palabay added.
Bayan-National Capital Region’s chairman Mong Palatino said that during Aquino’s term – from the Luneta hostage crisis in 2010, the inaction for victims of the typhoon Yolanda tragedy in 2013, the botched Mamasapano clash in 2015 – he proved to be “useless” to the Filipino people.
Palatino said, Aquino also promised change under his administration, “but did we ever feel that change in the past six years?” he asked, which was answered by the crowd with a resounding “no.”
He said that during Aquino’s campaign in 2010, he promised to end corruption with his slogan,
“Kung walang korap, walang mahirap (If no one is corrupt, no one will be poor).” But the past six years only proved that Aquino himself is corrupt, with the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which manipulated trillions of the people’s money.
“While he removed the pork barrel fund, he, on the other hand, had his own pork barrel called DAP,” said Palatino.
He added that under Aquino, poverty worsened, more people were jobless, demolition of informal settler communities intensified, there was still no genuine land reform, and government disregarded previously signed agreements with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
“No wonder why the people were enraged with Aquino. Now, the people are triumphant because Aquino has finally stepped down from power,” he said.
Challenge to Duterte
Aquino left with neoliberal policies that worsened the lives of majority of the Filipino people, said Reyes. He said it will be an important challenge to the Duterte administration to reverse policies, such as Public-Private Partnership contracts which have sovereign guarantees, as well as one-sided pacts like the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca).
Ben Cardenas, secretary general of Danggayan-Cagayan Valley also said that large-scale mining has destroyed mountains in the northern region. He said Oceana Gold Mining operating in Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino destroyed their mountains and rivers. In Cordon, Isabela, three mountains and two bodies of water were destroyed due to mining. He challenged Duterte to remain true to his stand against mining.
Mic Catuira, Migrante International deputy secretary general, said Duterte now faces the heavy task to transform the Philippines, as majority of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) voted for him.
He said under Aquino, OFWs were neglected and put at risk despite being the highest contributors to the country’s gross domestic product. Eight Filipino migrant workers were executed in different countries under Aquino’s watch. Filipinos seeking jobs abroad are being burdened by so many fees before they could leave the country.
“They pin their hope on Duterte who promised change to the country. All they want is to come home where they can apply for jobs and enjoy what they worked for. It is a big challenge for Duterte to be true to his promises,”,” said Catuira.
Jerome Adonis, Kilusang Mayo Uno deputy secretary general, said the mass movement also faces a big challenge to push for change, especially genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization.
“Real change for the people means to break away from subservience to imperialist, foreign powers,” he said. Adonis urged the people, specially the more than 16 million Filipinos who voted for Duterte, to organize and take action to fulfill their aspirations for a meaningful change and just peace.
“Only through our unity and action as one nation can we achieve genuine development and just and lasting peace,” said Adonis.