Today’s rally capped five days of protests, which was met with water cannons at the gates of Camp Aguinaldo on Oct. 18, followed by the brutal dispersal by the Manila Police in front of the US embassy in Manila on Oct. 19.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA- The one-week national caravan to Manila of indigenous peoples and Moro culminated in the same way it started — with a march back to Mendiola today, Oct. 21, where they declared the campaign “a triumph of struggling people.”
Dubbed the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya para sa Sariling Pagpapasya at Makatarungang Kapayapaan (caravan of the national minority for self-determination and just peace), the campaign launched the Kilusan ng Moro at Mamamayang Katutubo para sa Sariling Pagpapasya or Sandugo, the national minority alliance, which then took lead role in mass actions that brought their call before various agencies.
Today’s rally capped five days of protests, which was met with water cannons at the gates of Camp Aguinaldo on Oct. 18, followed by the brutal dispersal by the Manila Police in front of the US embassy on Oct. 19. This quickly sharpened the campaign for the right to self-determination with anti-US imperialist calls, as national minorities point out American domination as the ultimate enemy in the struggle against national oppression and discrimination.
The Lakbayan closing came a day after Duterte declared during his China visit that he is cutting off Philippine economic and military ties with the US. Sandugo leaders welcomed the pronouncement, as they called on the President to hold accountable the Manila Police officers and personnel involved in the US embassy dispersal.
At Mendiola Bridge, the same calls were heard: to defend the ancestral lands, pullout soldiers and paramilitary groups in the communities and give justice to slain victims. Only louder this time, and punctuated with “Death to US Imperialism!”
“As we continue to condemn the violent dispersal at the US embassy last October 19, we also call on President Duterte to immediately concretize his pronouncements, and ensure that his standing orders will be heeded by all in government, including police and security forces who, at present, are still obviously loyal to Washington,” said Piya Macliing Malayao, Sandugo spokesperson.
In the Oct. 19 protest, at least 50 were wounded when a police mobile plowed down rallyists towards the end of their program in front of the US embassy. Police had already fired tear gas, then followed through by chasing and mauling the protesters several blocks from the embassy. At least 40 were arrested, including 11 who were brought to hospitals and kept under tight police watch.
Einstein Recedes, Anakbayan national secretary general, pointed out that in spite of Duterte’s pronouncements, the Manila Police District brutally attacked protesters, just to save face because the US Embassy seal was defaced.
“The US sends a clear message that the police and military will not follow Duterte,” Recedes said.
Jerome Succor Aba, national spokesperson of Suara Bangsamoro and Sandugo co-convenor, said Duterte’s statement “must translate to the immediate pull-out of US troops, especially those stationed in ancestral lands.” He also called for the abrogation of lopsided treaties like the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) and the Visiting Forces AgreemenT (VFA). On the economic aspect, the President must stop destructive operations by US and other foreign companies in the indigenous and Moro ancestral lands, Aba said.
Right to self-determination and US imperialism
“The right to self-determination means to recognize the specific characteristics of the way of life, customs and traditions of the national minority, to respect the kind of development appropriate for us, to respect and recognize the historic defense of ancestral lands and territories,” Malayao said. She limped to the stage to speak, her right leg wrapped in bandage. Malayao was one of those seriously injured in the dispersal in front of the US embassy.
Malayao said that more than a century of US domination in the country did not bring development, but only plunder of ancestral lands, through companies in mining, plantation, logging and energy.
The US is also responsible for the human rights violations committed in the implementation of the Aquino counterinsurgency Oplan Bayanihan, which was adapted from the 2009 US Counterinsurgency Guide, Malayao said.
“Duterte must also ensure that the US-instigated and US-planned Oplan Bayanihan, a continuing scourge against national minority groups, must be fully expunged,” Aba said.
Malayao said they will support Duterte if he asserts Philippine sovereignty.
“Washington, with its strategic and economic interests in the Philippines, will not simply give up without giving a fight. The President should be wary of all moves by the superpower to resist and even defeat mounting anti-US sentiments. We vow that national minorities will be at the vanguard of this fight against US reaction,” Malayao said.
‘Develop relations based on national interest’
Even as Sandugo and other progressive groups expressed support for Duterte’s push for an independent foreign policy, they said it does not mean jumping “from one imperialist lap to another.”
Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), welcomed Duterte’s recent statement, calling it “historic and significant.”
“If the President is serious, he will formally transmit a letter to the US embassy notifying it of the termination of VFA, Edca, MDT,” he said.
“The goal of asserting sovereignty should be charting our own path for national development, achieving self-reliance and lessening independence on external factors,” Reyes said. Relations with other countries “must support genuine industrialization,” not economic dependence, he said.
Luzon contingent returns home
Tomorrow, Oct. 22, the indigenous peoples contingent from Northern, Central and Southern Luzon will head home, while those from Mindanao will stay for another week of campaign.