“What we have really is a state of hunger.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The first United People’s SONA gathered broad and diverse groups of people to share “the true SONA” yesterday July 23, 2018. From the main converging areas all over the University of the Philippines in Diliman to the march to Commonwealth, the participants demonstrated organized discipline and displayed similar calls in their colorful attire and banners.
With the participants’ huge colorful banners, an effigy of President Duterte, costumes from hats to jewelry to clothing bearing their calls, and nearly non-stop waves of chants and slogans punctuated by beats of gongs or drums, the United People’s SONA was both a protest and a fiesta of unity. They protested the policies adopted and being pushed by the Duterte administration; they celebrated the confidence-building of the people’s growing unity against tyranny.
The United People’s SONA is more than the coming together of various, diverse groups in one march and one program. It was first and foremost the coming together of people united against martial law and tyranny, the charter change that will pave the way for it, and the red-herring federalism that they said will only increase taxes.
They came from all over Mega Manila (with some representatives of the Lumad from Mindanao). They were a mix of the urban poor, peasants, indigenous peoples and Moro, workers, professionals and those from the informal sector. Families came with children in tow. Youth and students nimbly marched with senior citizen protesters such as the 82-year old Remily Buhay, from Pandi, and her 72-year old friend Isabel Libuha. Not even the pressure to use a cane or a walker prevented some from attending the SONA. The LGBT share marching space with the straight. The nuns, priests, church lay workers, sang along and swayed in time with musicians blasting the policies of the Duterte administration.
“It is better to listen to the true SONA than listen to the lies of President Duterte,” Senator Leila de Lima said in a speech read for her at the United People’s SONA.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), one of the organizers of the historic show of unity, said the United People’s SONA yesterday was a resounding success. It thanked the rest of yesterday’s organizers: the Movement Against Tyranny, Coalition for Justice, Tindig Pilipinas, Sangguniang Laiko, Intercessors for the Philippines, #BabaeAko, Laban ng Masa and Sentro.
Against a state of hunger
The true SONA depicted Duterte’s wars on drugs, on tambays (vagrants) and on “insurgents,” as mainly directed against the poor – and the poor are fighting back. At the United People’s SONA, they called for Duterte’s ouster or resignation. The victims of these wars attended the United People’s SONA – the survivors of drugs war brought pictures of their loved ones, as did the relatives of the disappeared and political prisoners.
“What we have really is a state of hunger,” said a Kadamay leader. This, she said, resulted from the jobs crisis, low wages from insecure, contractual jobs, and the increased prices of basic goods and services under the Duterte administration.
“The taxes forcibly levied on the poor are money which they would otherwise have bought food to eat,” said Gloria Arellano of Kadamay.
The urban poor decried the rash of demolitions to give way for Build Build Build projects of the Duterte administration, which will not benefit the poor at all. Meanwhile, Duterte’s promised 5.7 million housing for the poor has not materialized, Arellano said. She described as “criminal” the negligence in the mass housing backlog coupled with the existence of finished housing projects that are unused.
The Freedom from Debt Coalition also called Duterte a deceptive leader and a liar. In his third SONA, President Duterte is already “bistado” (recognized for his actual standing), said Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. “By now, the president’s foul mouth no longer shocked nor awed.” The proposed charter change his administration wants to ram through despite public disapproval, said former congressmen Neri Colmenares and Erin Tañada, clearly shows his drive to install himself as a dictator.
Against tyrannical rule
In the United People’s SONA, striking workers of NutriAsia came with logos of their workplace’s popular products, renaming it to describe their employers’ refusal to regularize them on the job and respect their right to strike. Datu Puti soy sauce was renamed Datung Kinupit (Money stolen).
Some migrants’ families wore the uniforms of many overseas Filipino workers with the message: “We are not milking cows; Stop TRAIN, Stop Labor Export.”
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan from NCR marched following colorful standees depicting the people’s calls for decent mass housing, jobs, resumption of peace talks, an end to martial law, regional wage boards, contractualization, and killings, among others.
Locals from Quezon province chose to wear their calls for land distribution on the traditional salakot (native farmers’ hat).
The traditionally colorful garb of the indigenous peoples from Mindanao was seen as well yesterday at the United People’s SONA. They came with four main descriptions of President Duterte: “fascist, traitor, terrorist, puppet.” Their communities in Mindanao, as of this writing, are either overrun or under siege by battalions of state military forces enforcing the expansion of mining and plantation projects into their ancestral domain. The Lumad schools are under threat or being forcibly closed by soldiers, and thousands of Lumad have evacuated instead of living with the military in their communities. The Lumad came to SONA calling for Duterte’s ouster and the pullout of military forces from their lands.
With fellow indigenous peoples, they came also with a long protest quilt depicting their plight and calls for change.
The students came with hand-painted descriptions of themselves in the struggle for a higher education budget and respect for students’ democratic rights.
They came with illustrations of how the Duterte administration’s TRAIN is meant to fund Build Build Build and increase the profits of a few families. Students also deplored in hand-painted artwork the anti-poor “war on drugs” and “tambays.”
The health sector, meanwhile, marched with a long streamer calling for an end to the “US-Duterte regime,” which they described as fatal.
If the people are not getting killed extra-judicially in Duterte’s various wars, they are slowly getting killed by poverty and taxes, said the speakers. “What we want is a nurturing rather than a killing society … What we want is to catch our breath, to breathe easy, without incessant price hikes,” the survivors of war on drugs said during the United Peoples’ SONA.
The branding of the Duterte administration as a killer of the poor, the working people and peasants were repeated in thousands of placards and costumes brought or worn to the United Peoples’ SONA.
#ThankYouDigong is Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes’ quip referring to the fact that a diverse group agreed and worked together to converge for the United Peoples’ SONA. A first since the 1990s, it was the biggest outpouring of SONA protest, so far, and Reyes, like the other speakers after him, said it was “just the beginning.”
The United Peoples’ SONA, he said, also stood for hundreds of thousands of others who cannot make it to Commonwealth Avenue that day.
“There’s a limit to how long President Duterte could keep abusing, deceiving and oppressing the people. There will come a time when he’d wake up to see that he has lost most of his past support,” Reyes said at the peoples’ SONA in Commonwealth. He urged the gathered protesters to “protect this extraordinary show of unity.”