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‘Teachers, OFWs, environment, other sectors ignored in SONA’

Pia Ranada
Health workers, students, laborers, indigenous peoples, the urban poor, and a host of other sectors are frustrated that Aquino had no room in his SONA for their issues and concerns

MISSING FROM SONA. Spokespersons from various advocacy and militant groups point out issues ignored by President Benigno Aquino III in his 5th State of the Nation Address. Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Groups that participated in the rally against the 5th State of the Nation Address of President Benigno Aquino III lamented his failure to mention sectors of society often overlooked by government in its pursuit of large infrastructure projects and policy reforms.

Indigenous peoples, health workers, youth groups, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), and employees in the transportation sector spoke to the media a day after the SONA on Tuesday, July 29, to list down what was missing from the President’s speech. 

Piya Macliing Malayao of the indigenous peoples’ rights group KAMP (Kalipunan ng mga Katututubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas) observed that Aquino showcased many massive infrastructure projects without explaining how they would affect indigenous peoples whose lands will allegedly be used for the projects. 

The Kaliwa Dam Project in Quezon, which Aquino said in his SONA is designed to prevent a predicted water shortage in Metro Manila in 2021, will inundate more than 27,000 hectares of lands occupied by the Remontado and Dumagat tribes, said Malayao. 

“Aquino only defends the displacement of the 10,000 Dumagat and Remontado people to provide mega-profit for water concessionaires and the privatized water service,” she said.

The Clark Green City, which Aquino also spoke about, will affect around 2,000 Ayta people. Malayao predicts that the Ayta will likely be “placed in colonies without proper and sufficient, adequate and appropriate livelihood, housing and social services.”

Environmentalists also had something to say about Aquino’s infrastructure projects.  

The P18.72-billion ($431.5 million)* Kaliwa Dam to be constructed in Kaliwa River in General Nakar, Quezon, “is a threat to our remaining prime forests in Sierra Madre and its biodiversity. It disregards the basic right of the present and future generation to a healthy and balanced ecology,” said Elizabeth Carranza of the Save Sierra Madre Network in a press release. 

Carranza was also disappointed that Aquino did not speak about environmental policies in his speech. 

“Mr President, your speech took more than an hour and a half, but it is sad you did not use even one line for the care and protection of Mother Nature.”

Ignored sectors

Teachers were also disappointed that the President failed to mention commitments to improve the lives of those in the education sector. 

In terms of pagtaas ng suweldo para sa mga guro at kawani ng edukasyon, wala itong binanggit kundi pagmamayabang lang dun daw sa ginawa niya sa K-12 at pag-generate niya ng trabaho mula sa ninakaw niyang DAP,” said ACT Teachers spokesperson France Castro.

(In terms of higher salaries for teachers and those in the education sector, nothing was mentioned, except boasting about the K-12 program he started and generation of new jobs from funds stolen by DAP.)

Elmer Labog, chairman of labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), criticized Aquino for not tackling the electricity price hikes that continue to burden poor Filipinos. 

He also lambasted Aquino for claiming the number of labor strikes decreased during his presidency. This, he said, is not because of better conditions for laborers. 

Sa pagmamalaki ni Ginoong Aquino na wala nang welga, eh talaga namang napakahirap ang magkaroon ng unyon sa ating bansa sapagkat nag-uumpisa ka pa lamang, kailangan mo magpaalam sa Department of Labor at sa mga kapitalista na magtatayo ka ng unyon. Sino nga bang kompanya nanaisin na magkaroon ng tunay na unyon ang mga manggagawa?” 

(Aquino says there are no more strikes but it’s because it is so difficult to form a union in this country. You first have to ask permission from the Department of Labor and the capitalists. What company wants its workers to have a real union?) 

OFWs too were ignored in this year’s SONA, said Migrante spokesperson Sol Pillas.

Some 5,000 Filipinos continue to leave the country daily to look for work abroad. All of them are required to pay around P30,000 ($691) in clearance fees before they can leave. 

Hundreds of abusive recruiters who make money off unsuspecting OFWs face complaints but are still not behind bars, she said. 

The abusive cycle is only perpetuated by the lack of good-quality jobs in the country, she added.

Let-down 

The privatization of state universities and increasing tuition fees that have become a burden to students and parents apparently did not merit mention in Aquino’s speech, lamented League of Filipino Students spokesperson Charlotte Velasco. 

Meanwhile, the urban poor continue to be displaced by large development projects given the go signal by the Aquino administration, said KADAMAY spokesperson Bea Arellano. 

Ang pondo, ginamit para i-demolish ang mga maralita sa North Triangle sa Quezon City. At sino ang tinutulungan niya dito? ‘Yang si Ayala? Bulag at bingi siya sa aming maralita.” 

(Funds were used to demolish the houses of the poor in North Triangle in Quezon City. And who was he helping? The Ayalas? He is blind and deaf to the poor.) 

Some 56 million Filipinos continue to live on P100 ($2.3) a day while street vendors struggling to make a living are harassed by cops or have their goods taken away from them, she decried. 

The President has also let health workers down.

Aquino did not address how the poor would be able to cope with the privatization of public hospitals which has led to more expensive health services, said Beng Reyes of Health Alliance for Democracy. 

While Aquino spoke of big transportation projects like more LRT lines and the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit project, he did not address problems faced by those working in the transportation sector – taxi drivers and bus operators who have to deal with rising petroleum prices.

The President also did not elaborate on the availability of new jobs for the bus drivers and operators likely to be displaced by the Bus Rapid Transit project.

The various groups said the SONA only strengthened their resolve to see Aquino out of power.

“We will continue to hold rallies in the coming months and pursue the impeachment complaints against Aquino,” said Renato Reyes Jr, secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan. – Rappler.com

*US$ 1 = P43.42

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.