“We are tired of hearing about so-called improvements in the economy when unemployment is increasing, wages are pressed down, prices are soaring, and social services are decaying and getting scarce. This so-called growth is felt not by the needy poor but by the greedy rich.” – Elmer Labog, Kilusang Mayo Uno
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Street march and the “real SONA” would be asserted today despite the government’s attempts to muzzle and threaten it. Days prior to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s fourth state of the Nation Address (SONA), his administration has already announced the closure of parts of Commonwealth Avenue leading to the House of Representatives, where Aquino is to deliver his speech. The government has also refused to permit protesters to go near the Batasan Complex.
Critics led by the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) published photos of the now cyclone-wired parts of Commonwealth Avenue where progressive groups traditionally manage to conduct their “true SONA” program every year. Preparations at the grounds of the House of Representatives also revealed that its security measures have been beefed up.
In a statement, the Kilusang Mayo Uno said workers across the country are ready to join protests in time for Pres. Noynoy Aquino’s fourth SONA, saying workers will assert that the real state of the nation be heard on that day.
KMU said Aquino’s previous SONA’s give workers and the poor no reason to listen to the president’s speech on Monday and that the latter will most likely contain tired old lies about so-called improvements in the economy and empty promises that the economy will continue to grow in the coming years.
The labor center is not alone in expecting this. Women’s group Gabriela, ACT teachers’ Partylist, youth and students, among others, expect Aquino would once again sing praises for his administration’s glowing statistics that are not felt at all by the masses.
“We will not listen to the president’s SONA. We will, instead, assert that the real state of the nation be heard through our protests, with or without a permit,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, KMU chairperson.
“We are tired of hearing about so-called improvements in the economy when unemployment is increasing, wages are pressed down, prices are soaring, and social services are decaying and getting scarce. This so-called growth is felt not by the needy poor but by the greedy rich,” he added.
“Far from reducing the gap between the rich and poor, Aquino’s economic policies have made it wider,” said Act Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio.
Tinio cited recent studies showing that the 40 richest families on the Forbes list of the wealthiest Filipinos accounted for 76 percent of GDP. Meanwhile, despite the much-touted economic growth, the poverty incidence of 27.9 percent, the highest among so-called emerging nations in Asia, has remained virtually unchanged since 2009, when it stood at 28.6 percent. In numbers though, the poor have increased since Noynoy became president. SWS surveys said the number of families who consider themselves poor have consistently increased from 8.9 million in 2010 to 9.9 million in 2011 and 10.5 million in 2012. Urban poor group Kadamay noted that under Aquino, hungry Filipinos grew in number from 3.6 million in 2010 to 7.9 million as of March this year.
“Aquino’s policy direction geared toward the privatization of services and utilities, creating an environment supposedly conducive for foreign investors by granting privileges and removing economic restrictions while giving loan-funded dole-outs to poor families will not resolve the people’s poverty and the remaining three years of his administration promises ill for poor Filipino families,” said Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan.
The Gabriela representative is set to attend Aquino’s SONA in Congress wearing a gown with messages. Ilagan said she hopes to put forward the plight of indigenous communities and the increasing threats to indigenous life and lands amid Charter Change bids through her SONA gown.
“Real” SONA rallies
The day before SONA, protesters from Southern Tagalog assembled in Cavite and drove to Manila for a couple of pre-SONA marches. Peasant groups from Central Luzon arrived in Manila on Sunday also to take part in SONA protests this Monday.
KMU said all its regional chapters have prepared protest activities this July 22 and that in Metro Manila, workers and the urban poor under KMU are ready to march to the Batasang Pambansa.
“The Aquino government wants to silence protests that expose the real state of the nation,” Labog said, saying that is Aquino’s objective in trying to consign protests in Metro Manila to the Quezon City Memorial Circle.
“It is at the same time preparing to unleash violence against protestors in an attempt to silence them. That’s the reason for the deployment of 6,000 police forces, 500 soldiers and 31 fire trucks in Metro Manila on SONA day,” Labog added.
Unfazed, protesters are set to march as early as 6 a.m. today in a bid to get as near as possible to the site of Aquino’s SONA. Different participating organizations are set to converge at various points in the city such as in National Housing Authority in elliptical Road, LTFRB in East Avenue, Philcoa, Luzon Avenue, and in front of Ever Gotesco in Commonwealth.
KMU said the SONA protests is the start of bigger and bolder protests in the coming months against the Aquino government’s anti-worker and anti-poor policies. Labog said more and more people are being angered by the government’s lies and intensifying violence against the poor.