Ordinary Filipinos – the perennially jobless, out-of-school teenagers, recently retrenched factory workers, vegetable vendors, proud homosexuals, among others – braved the heavy rain on the day of the Sona to let it be known that they have had enough of Gloria.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — The day of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s ninth State of the Nation Address started bright and sunny in Metro Manila. Ester Imberso, a vendor of buri (straw) hats and fans from Tondo, went to Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City early, expecting to earn more than her average net per day in her 30 years of selling hats and fans. “Every year, if I’m feeling well, I come here to sell and listen to the program,” she told Bulatlat.
But by noon, when rallyists from different meeting points along Commonwealth had marched toward the main location of their Kontra-Sona program in front of the Ever-Gotesco mall, Ester’s hope to make a brisk sale was washed away by the rain.
It’s the vendors of umbrellas and rubber flip-flops who had a heyday as rallyists took off their shoes and wore flip-flops instead. Some took shelter, in vain, under umbrellas, tarpaulin posters and streamers. Others took cover in waiting sheds and parked vehicles. Many simply allowed themselves to get drenched.
The program to air “the real state of the nation” went on as planned despite the continuous heavy downpour. There were huge speakers every 20 meters so rallyists at the end of the line could clearly hear the speeches and the musical performances.
“It’s like fiesta here,” a rallyist said, still wearing his South Supermarket uniform. Indeed, there were good protest music, frequent chanting, bursts of clapping and cheering and get-togethers of friends, some of whom had traveled from far-off provinces. They wore their sentiments and demands on their shirts, hats, umbrellas and pins. They brought along larger than life posters and effigies excoriating Arroyo’s bloody anti-people acts — from demolitions to militarization to worsening poverty due to her neoliberal economic programs. They painted a swine-like image of Arroyo on the street.
Daniel Olivo, 14, a third-year high-school student who sells juice drinks along with his out-of school elder brother, complained that their samalamig was also not selling as fast as it used to. While no one was buying, Daniel listened to the Kontra-Sona program. “What they are saying is true,” he said. But he confessed to feeling nervous about an early scuffle, when rallyists “arrested” a guy they said was sent by the military to collect information on the rallyists. “All we really need is to earn enough,” said Daniel.
Other high-school students who went as protesters were singing, marching back and forth near the main stage to where their groups were concentrated and dancing their protests in the rain.
Two high-school students from Culiat told us that they joined the Sona protests “because we’re against GMA’s presidency and continued stay in Malacañang.”
Drenched teenagers from communities residing on the University of Philippines campus in Diliman, such as 16-year old Leya Cruz, said they came either with their parents or just their blessing. “We came here because we wish to oust Gloria.” To ward off the cold, they gamely danced at every cultural presentation of performing activist bands.
Up for Demolition
The wet dancing teenagers shared the plight of older rallyists from old Balara in Tandang Sora, Quezon City. Susan Jebolan, 48, and an older woman were taking shelter from the rains under a coconut vendor’s huge umbrella. They joined the rally to protest the impending demolition of their makeshift houses for the extension of the C-5 highway.
“Even garbage has a definite destination,” said Susan. Why is it that when it comes to them, they’re being denied a relocation and are being treated as garbage? she asked. Some 300,000 households would be displaced by the C-5 construction. According to Susan, the Arroyo government has initiated the project like a “true traitor.”
“Without so much as informing us who would be affected the most, they began construction work inside Ayala Heights. Now it is headed right to our communities,” Susan bewailed.
Were it not for well-meaning construction workers, they would not have known of the impending demolition of their homes. Only after they protested did negotiations with the government start. “We’re not exactly opposed to constructing C-5,” she explained. “We just want help in relocating.”