SONA 2023

[OPINION] An open letter to Kakampinks to join the People’s SONA

Maria Veloso

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[OPINION] An open letter to Kakampinks to join the People’s SONA

Alejandro Edoria/Rappler

'We must ally with each other and organize for genuine change. Societal change is not achieved in single snapshots of history.'

This July 24th, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will deliver his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), where he plans to elaborate on the progress in his term thus far. 

The People’s SONA on the same day will protest Marcos Jr.’s claims of progress. Between El Niño rice shortages, food inflation, the jeepney phaseout, and alarming numbers of activists and journalists red-tagged, people are clamoring for change. 

Against the backdrop of a growing opposition movement, I wonder about the revolution simmering among us. At present, those of us fighting for justice for the poor and marginalized are admittedly few among the larger whole of Filipino society. I recall last year’s Kakampink rallies, which in Makati drew an astounding 400,000 people. Can we muster something similar at the People’s SONA and the following assemblies? If we can demonstrate the strength and solidarity of our movement, we take the first of many necessary steps in the remaining years.

Since the results of the 2022 national elections, it seems as if the once tidal force of the Kakampink movement has scattered. On the evening of May 9th last year, the rhetoric of dismay and division circulated on social media. Real-life family discussions went silent out of a sense of defeat. Among older generations we heard, “Hay, Pilipinas, ang hirap mong mahalin (Oh, Philippines, you are so hard to love).” Among college students and young professionals we saw memes which disclosed plans to move to Canada. What these expressions had in common was a subtle sense of a dead movement.

Except the movement did not die. Rather, it faced a loss which was made more pronounced by former Vice President Leni Robredo’s retreat from mainstream politics. Rampant disinformation on the Martial Law era, along with voter suppression and corruption saw to it that Marcos Jr. won the election. After this, Leni Robredo created the non-government organization Angat Buhay but largely stepped back from the public eye. Focusing instead on teaching and speaking engagements, Leni lost her political edge. Thus, the Kakampink movement which ran on volunteer efforts and youthful energy lost its vitality. 

Leni’s posturing quashed the hopes of many for change in the Philippines. However, public frustration at the new regime has swelled in the year since the elections. On July 18th, Marcos Jr. signed the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) into law, ignoring the economists who denounced the sovereign wealth fund and angering many Filipinos who believe the MIF will be used to siphon money from the nation for corruption-laden projects. While Leni at this moment may be silent, that does not mean her supporters have to be. 

Leni supporters can take up new symbols of hope and join themselves to the mass of local organizations continuously fighting for change. The youth, farmers and fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, and rural women are fighting for their rights every day. While not everyone will be marching from the Commission of Human Rights on July 24th – jeepney drivers will be striking to paralyze public transport – the People’s SONA is an important gathering of the diverse groups standing for freedom and justice. For the remaining years of the Marcos regime, Commonwealth Avenue on the day of the SONA will be a crucial battlefield. 

I am urging all the Leni supporters to join me and many others at this march, and many marches after that. We must ally with each other and organize for genuine change. Societal change is not achieved in single snapshots of history. The EDSA People Power movement we tend to mythologize and uphold as the standard was only the fruit of a vast invisible effort of everyday Filipinos through many grueling years. The Kakampink movement, as bright and strong as it was, needs its members to tenaciously continue the fight. We cannot wait every six years for change. Indeed, most Filipinos cannot afford to.

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I understand the pain of losing a symbol of hope, which was, admittedly, Leni. Perhaps that is why she stepped back from the public eye, no longer wanting to be objectified. This is something no one can fault her for. Idolizing politicians is inherently problematic because of its restrictions to the electoral system. Kakampinks can cherish Leni while contributing to the still-growing cause. 

If we need a symbol for this movement – which is not new in quality but rather transforming in shape, sharpening — I look to Amanda Echanis, a peasant women advocate unjustly imprisoned, a mother who writes essays and poems from a cell. I hope Leni supporters can sympathize with Amanda more than any political leader, and in doing so, plant their pink roses in the dirt, cultivating a new society side by side with fellow Filipinos. –

Maria Veloso is a climate justice organizer and founder of Green Dreams of a Generation, a youth storytelling org part of the YACAP Alliance. She is an essayist, poet, and fiction writer who focuses on the intersections of revolution and ecology. When not typing away on her computer, Maria can be found climbing mountains or enjoying the beach. 

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