LIKE President Rodrigo Duterte, militant groups gathered around the President’s State of the Nation Address are also expected to break with tradition, eschewing the usual effigies of the President in favor of banners of support for his peace and land reform initiatives.
This is the first time that a contingent of 3,000 leaders from Mindanao, and from the Visayas and Luzon will converge in Manila to rally behind a President.
The Mindanao and Visayas contingents trekked a week-long caravan to reach Manila, according to Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr.
The police have also done away with the usual roadblocks and concertina barbed wire barriers to keep protesters from reaching the Batasang Pambansa, where the Sona will be held this afternoon.
“As far as we know, based on our latest discussions, we will march to Batasan Road, just 300 meters away from Congress. That’s the closest we have got during Sona as far as I remember and I have joined the Sona protests since 1992,” Reyes said.
In the previous Sonas, the protesters managed to reach only up to the Sandiganbayan, a few steps away from Batasan Road.
This will be the first time they will be allowed to set foot on Batasan Road going to Congress.
“We also thank the President for allowing Sona rallyists to march as far as Batasan Road tomorrow. This would also be another first. The President has shown himself to be more open than his predecessors were. We hope he would continue to engage the people in dialogue and move to address their most urgent issues and concerns. We reiterate that, should he have time, he is more than welcome to attend our rally tomorrow outside Batasan,” he added.
The militant groups also lauded Duterte for signing the Freedom of Information Executive Order, less than 30 days into his term.
“We hope that this would facilitate greater transparency and accountability in government. We hope that the exceptions [of the legislative and judiciary] would not neutralize the potency of the FOI EO,” Reyes said.
Reyes said Duterte would be the first Mindanawon to deliver the Sona.
Bai Ali Indayla, Manilakbayan spokesperson, said the protesters brought with them the People’s Agenda for Change.
Instead of streamers and placards that contain anti-government slogans, the agenda will be portrayed through six colorful murals that will be brought to the march, signifying the militant struggle for change, for freedom, democracy, and just and lasting peace, Indayla said.
On July 18, some 3,000 Mindanao lumad, farmers, Moros, workers and activists embarked on a Manilakbayan (caravan) to take part in President Duterte’s first Sona on July 25.
“This is the first time that a significant contingent from Mindanao will be taking part in the Sona event in Manila,” Indayla said.
“[Monday] marks the seventh day of our Manilakbayan and we are currently in Manila. With each day, hundreds more are expected to join our caravan. Most have come from the countryside, victims of continuing militarization and human rights violations. They hope that the Duterte government will hear their cries and address their grievances,” Indayla said.
“This would also mark the first time that a contingent from Mindanao, along with thousands from Bicol, Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon and Northern Luzon will be joining the Sona event,” Reyes said.
“With hope in our hearts, we are now traveling across the country to witness the President’s first Sona and appeal to him to hear our cry for change,” Indayla said.
“As people from Mindanao, we have lived through generations of being marginalized and oppressed, our lands plundered and our kin lost because of past governments that waged war against us,” she pointed out.
The protesters even invited Duterte to attend the rally before the Sona.
“We extend a warm invitation to President Duterte to be with the people who will march during the historic Sona rally. He is very much welcome to appear at and join the activities of Bayan, to listen to the plight of the people gathered outside Batasan, before he delivers his historic address,” Reyes said.
Indayla said for the millions of oppressed Filipinos, the Sona is an occasion to highlight the true state of the nation—poverty and hunger, unemployment, landlessness, migration, human rights violations—and the desire for real and significant social change.
“We will take to the streets to deliver the People’s Sona,” she said.
She said while there is an alliance between the progressive movement and the Duterte administration, they would continue the struggle against anti-people policies and programs, most especially the continuing neoliberal economic policies detrimental to the people, rampant militarization in the countryside, human rights violations, the filing of trumped-up charges against activists and progressives, the K-to-12 program, and the privatization of public hospitals.
“We support the Duterte administration’s call for the resumption of peace talks between the government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, respecting the previous signed agreements, and the promise to free political prisoners,” she said.
“We also call on President Duterte to end the militarization of communities in the countryside and stop the military operations against civilians which has caused thousands to lose their homes, their ancestral lands, their source of income, and even their families,” she said.
“While we support the anti-crime and anti-corruption campaign of the regime, we remain critical of the apparent vigilante killings and extrajudicial killings at the hands of the police forces connected to the anti-drug campaign. We call on President Duterte to uphold due process and respect the human rights of those suspected of involvement in the drug trade, many of whom come from poor families.
“We call on the administration to primarily pursue, track down and prosecute the big-time drug dealers and drug syndicates and their cohorts in government,” Indayla said.
She also said the recent decision by a UN tribunal that came on the side of the Philippines in its territorial dispute with China was an important politcal and legal victory for Filipinos.
“We welcome the fact that Duterte had taken a stance independent of the US in matters of the West Philippine Sea,” she said, adding that the upcoming visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry was yet another attempt to secure US interests in the region.