Words by John Paul Omac
NOTE: This is an archived story originally published on UPLB Perspective Volume 42, Issue 1 (June to August 2015).
Amidst an overcast sky and rain, thousands of protesters from all over the country stormed the Commonwealth Avenue where they staged an all-out protest for President Benigno Aquino III’s sixth and last State of the Nation Address (SONA).
The final SONA of Aquino marked the start of his last year in the presidential post. Aquino’s five-year term has been mired with numerous controversies, from the hostage crisis fiasco, deteriorating mass transportation system, unfulfilled land reforms, countless human rights violations, failed Yolanda response, and the corruption scandals involving the Public Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
“No legacy to be proud of”
Aquino’s legacy of “Tuwid na daan”, which he bequeaths to the members of the Liberal Party, has turned out to be [a] “flooded potholed-filled path to nowhere,” according to Carol Arraulo, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) chairperson.
She emphasized that “Aquino has no legacy to be proud of” citing his sham inclusive economic growth which in reality has favoured an exclusive set of oligarchs, as well as foreign monopoly capitalists. Through the Public-Private Partnership, an estimate of P364 billion worth of government contracts have been awarded to the Ayala, Pangilinan, Cojuangco-Ang Sy, Consunji, Aboitiz, and Tan groups of companies.
This, according to Araullo, gives the business tycoons the opportunity to take in billions more in user fees, toll fees and rentals at the expense of the public for the next 25-30 years.
Meanwhile, [the] poverty rate swelled from 25.8 million Filipinos in 2014 to 28 million in 2015. This is despite the P178 billion poured by the administration to the conditional cash transfer program.
Moreover, Aquino’s defense and continued use of the pork barrel system even after it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court is a testament to the large-scale, systemic corruption. Despite strong opposition, P27.39 billion worth of congressional pork tucked in the budgets of various departments in the 2015 national budget. These funds remain subject to the lawmakers’ referrals and recommendations.
Furthermore, lump-sum funds under the President’s discretion, known as the “Presidential Pork”, still amounts to a staggering P958 billion.
Aquino had also flunked in terms of human rights violations. The persistence of his counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan, has taken the toll on countless civilians in the countryside as well in the cities.
Under the Aquino administration, human rights group Karapatan has documented 411 cases of extrajudicial killings and frustrated killings of activists and members of progressive organizations and 60,155 victims of forced evacuation. “And all the while the administration has been peddling this as the military’s involvement to community development,” Gabriela Representative Luzviminda Ilagan added.
Throughout his term, Aquino has been emphasizing that his “bosses” are the Filipino people. Yet, as he readies his last SONA, the Commonwealth Avenue leading to the Batasang Pambansa resembled a war zone fortified with concrete barriers, concertina wire, and container vans, to be secure by a 6,000-strong police force and standby military contingent.
The barriers and wires have been lining up the center island of Commonwealth Avenue leading up to Batasan Road since a week earlier. The barriers have stretched more than a kilometer as part of an elaborate blockade put up by the Aquino government to prevent protesters from getting near Batasang Pambansa.
Reyes maintained that the blockade has no legal basis and is in fact a violation of the Batasang Pambansa 880 which states the right of the people to peaceably assemble. In its letter to Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista, BAYAN clarified its position on the yearly blockade.
“We likewise express our opposition to the yearly, arbitrary denial of modification of our rally permit, committed without any due process such as the required hearings within the period that action should be taken on the application.”
“We strongly oppose the repeated failure of the City Government to provide any legal basis for keeping protesters at EVER Commonwealth absent any proof that [the] rally poses a threat to public safety. We’d like to remind you that the City Government will again be in flagrant violation of the law if it commits the same this year,” Reyes said.
Aquino depicted as ‘Halimaw’
Meanwhile, effigies made by protesters depicted the president as dilapidated and a monster in the palace.
BAYAN Southern Tagalog revealed an effigy portraying the President as a monster with the United States’ palace as the backdrop, which according to them, represents Aquino regim’s subservience to US dictates. Prior to its burning in Commonwealth, morning of July 27, a skit was performed showing artists dressed in tribal garbs trying to ‘arrest’ the monster that is Aquino.
The act of ‘arresting the monster’ embodies the persistent defiance and vigilance of the masses against any pursuit that would further worsen their condition and trample their rights.
“We want to hold the Aquino regime accountable for its neoliberal, anti-people policies that destroyed the lives of the common folk, especially the poor. Workers have endured five years of monstrous cruelty under Aquino. We cannot afford another year of suffering for our people who have long been living in distressed conditions despite Aquino’s overarching claims at reforms and economic growth,” said Roque Police, Chairman of Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (PAMANTIK-KMU).
As early as July 20, at least 4,000 from the Southern Tagalog region have assembled in a weeklong caravan dubbed as “Bigkisan ng Mamamayan para Patalsikin ang Rehimeng US-Aquino Tungo sa Tunay na Pagbabago.” Composed of peasants, fisherfolk, residents of urban poor communities, workers, students and professional sectors, the Southern Tagalog delegation marched to Commonwealth Avenue to join the national SONA protest. [P]
Photo from Southern Tagalog Exposure