#SONA2016: March to Batasan a ‘breath of fresh air’ for activists
MANILA, Philippines - “It’s a breath of fresh air na ‘di na tayo gaano ka-nirepress ng mga pulis.” (It's a breath of fresh air that we are not that repressed by the police)
This was how Josiah Hiponia, 20, a student from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, described this year’s mass actions during the State of the Nation Address (SONA). People from various sectoral groups and advocacies annually troop from the UP Diliman campus to Batasan Pambansa in Quezon City, usually in protest against the current administration's programs.
This year, however, the demonstrators gathered to express their support for President Rodrigo Duterte.
Also this year, they were able to reach Batasan Pambansa freely and without the use of force, unlike in previous SONAs where protestors were always stopped at Ever Gotesco Mall in Commonwealth Avenue by a line of policemen armed with truncheons and shields, container vans, and barriers with barbed wires.
The police stayed at the side and just watched the demonstrators, even as the groups approached Batasan Hills, the seat of the Lower House where President Duterte delivered his first SONA.
When the demonstrators settled down and began their program, some of the police rested, drank juice, and conversed with demonstrators and residents of the area.
John Vincent Gonzales, 20, from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers – Philippine Normal University, said that aside from the peaceful rally, this year’s SONA was also “very welcoming” because thousands flocked Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City to join the protest, with a Mindanao contingent joining for the first time.
“‘Yung SONAng [rally na] ito, hindi para tumuligsa sa Pangulong Duterte kundi suportahan ‘yung mga makamasang polisiya niya atsaka ‘yung mga plano niya para sa bansa,” he added.
(This State of the Nation rally is not to oppose President Duterte but to support his pro-masses policies and his plans for the nation.)
Portraits of peace
Demonstrators did not burn any effigy of the president for the first time in 15 years. Instead, a six-panel mural portraying themes from the People’s Agenda for Change served as the main attraction.
The murals, called “Portraits of Peace,” were made by artists from progressive groups and were meant to convey a positive message to the Duterte administration that the multi-sectoral groups welcome his presidency and that they are hopeful of the change he has promised.
The main themes in the mural were natural industrialization, progressive social policy, national sovereignty, human rights and peace, people’s governance, and genuine land reform. These were encompassed in the People’s Agenda for Change, a 15-point agenda made by participants of the National People’s Summit 2016 held at UP Diliman on June 29.
Vigilance to continue
Ryan Alcarde, 20, of Alay Sining, said that despite the progressive groups’ expression of support to the Duterte administration, they will continue to be vigilant of his policies and actions.
“‘Yung tunay na batayin natin na tunay ang pagbabago sa gobyerno ay kung mapapatunayan niya [na magagawa niya] ‘yun [People’s Agenda for Change]. Pagpapakita na rin ito na may isa siyang antas ng sincerity sa pakikipagtulungan sa mga progresibong grupo sa pag attain ng pagbabago,” he said.”
(The true guidelines for authentic change in government is if they can prove that they can accomplish the People's Agenda for Change. This will show that they have a level of sincerity in helping progressive groups attain change)
Alcarde tells critics of progressive groups that if they are really for the masses, they should join the movement to understand what it is fighting for. - Rappler.com
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Katrina Crista M. Artiaga is a student from the University of the Philippines Diliman and an intern at Rappler.