“All in all, Aquino’s SONA contained rehashed rhetoric and empty promises. The president remained silent on many fundamental issues that the people have long clamored for. I’m sorry Mr. President but your spinmeisters have failed you. We are far from impressed. We are indignant.” – Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Thousands of members of progressive organizations marched along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City to belie President Benigno S. Aquino III’s claim of “economic growth” under the three years of his administration. Carrying banners of “Tatlong taong walang pagbabago! Singilin at labanan ang papet, Pasista at pahirap na rehimeng US-Aquino!” (Three years without change! Struggle against the puppet, fascist, and oppressive US-Aquino regime!) the groups held what they called as the “People’s Sona.”
“Nothing can stop us. Not the rains and certainly not the repression by the regime. The People’s Sona is our response to three years of the Aquino regime, the absence of meaningful changes, and intensifying attacks on the rights and welfare of the people, especially the poor,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said.
Despite the non-issuance of the permit by the Quezon City government, the groups from Southern Tagalog held a protest action in front of Ever Gotesco Mall. Activists from all over Metro Manila and nearby provinces then marched to join the program. Upon reaching the Ever Gotesco Mall the protesters removed the barrier that the police placed in the center island of Commonwealth Avenue and marched along the northbound lane to Batasan Pambansa.
The police force responded and placed five garbage trucks to block the protesters from further marching to Batasan Pambansa. Leaders negotiated with the police to move forward but the police barred them wielding their shields and truncheons.
Ten protesters were arrested by the police in the ensuing scuffle and many more were injured, including a 77-year-old member of Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto Rodolfo Del Rosario.
While being treated by a medic group, Del Rosario said before the media, “the prices of basic goods are increasing. There is no reason not to fight.”
“They don’t want us to come near the Batasan because they are feasting there together with the hacienderos and big comprador bourgeoisies. The real Sona is here,” said Anakbayan national chairman Vencer Crisostomo. Crisostomo also sustained an injury during the clash between the police.
The groups said the administration of Aquino boasts of economic growth despite the widening gap between the rich and the poor. The recent data of the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) showed that people with high-income enjoyed a 10.4 percent annual growth income in 2011 while middle-income earners got a mere 4.3 percent growth and the low-income group 8.2 percent.
Bayan noted that the last three years have seen the widening gap between the rich and the poor, rising unemployment and poverty, and the escalation of prices.
“Aquino’s Sona is full of lies. Do you still want to listen to it?” said former Bayan Muna Rep.Teddy Casiño. “Who benefits from the growth of the economy? Let us see who are celebrating,” he said adding that only the elite are benefiting from the economy’s growth.
The groups also slammed the incessant increases in rates of utilities such as water and electricity, as well as the spikes in prices of basic commodities. Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares criticized the Aquino government for not acting on the increasing rates of utilities. “Aquino does not want to repeal the laws that resulted in the increasing rates and prices of electricity, water and oil.”
“The number of poor and hungry Filipinos increased due to growing unemploymen. The economic growth the government boasts about is meaningless to us. While prices of basic commodities and services soar, the call for substantial wage hike has fallen on deaf ears. Social services including health services are being privatized,” said Kadamay national chairwoman Gloria Arellano.
Arellano also hit the government’s solution to poverty, the dole-out Conditional Cash Transfer program or Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. “The Aquino government’s centerpiece anti-poverty program that is the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) is a mere dole-out and a counter-insurgency tool. It will not lift millions of poor from poverty.”
“The so-called economic growth has benefited only the few ruling elite. While the people go hungry, the rulers feast on congressional pork and reap profits from privatization schemes,” Reyes said.
Progressive groups also lambasted Aquino for continuing with neo-liberal policies, including the PPP or Public-Private Partnership projects, the labor export policy and the K to 12 curriculum.
Women’s group Gabriela decried the “corporatization” of government hospitals that will eventually lead to privatization. They fear that once government hospitals are corporatized, the poor will no longer have access to health services because it will no longer be free.
According to Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luzviminda C. Ilagan, Aquino’s continued adherence to neoliberal policies has resulted to widespread hunger and poverty, displacement and plunder in the last three years.
Citing examples of privatization such as in health and public utilities, Ilagan said, “Aquino’s PPP clearly manifested in the thrust to privatize healthcare and public utilities as well as plans to further inject private investments into the MRT and LRT railway systems.
“These threaten to totally deprive the poor of much needed services. A P10 ($0.23) increase in MRT and LRT fares looms while indigent patients are being charged exorbitant rates for medical and laboratory services in public hospitals,” Ilagan added.
Education, too, would be far beyond the reach of Filipinos under Aquino’s K to 12 curriculum. France Castro, secretary general of Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) lambasted the hasty implementation of the K to 12 despite the big shortages in books, chairs and classrooms this school year.
“With an added two years of basic education, the 1.4 million out-of-school children will surely increase,” Castro said. She also criticized the production of cheap labor under the K to 12 curriculum. “Do you believe that your children, 18 years old, will land a job after he or she graduates from grade 12?” The audience attending the protest answered “No!”
Garry Martinez, chairman of Migrante International, also belied the economic growth that the Aquino administration is saying. He cited the nearly 5,000 overseas Filipino workers who leave the country and work abroad.
“In the past three years, the situation of OFWs has deteriorated despite Aquino’s declarations of an improved economy, a so-called ‘reverse migration’ phenomenon and a supposedly more systematic approach to provide welfare and services for OFWs in distress,” Martinez said.
Martinez said these are evident in the record-high increase in the number of cases their organization has handled in the past three years. “From 1,500 cases yearly before Aquino assumed power in 2010, the number of cases we have documented and responded to shot up to 4,500 by the end of 2011, and 5,000 by the end of 2012. These do not yet include cases handled independently by our chapters abroad,” he said.
Kabataan Partylist said Aquino’s fourth state of the nation address is “riddled with lies” and glossed over important issues that many Filipinos are confronting.
“While Aquino went on and on with his so-called achievements in his anti-corruption campaign, he remained silent on fundamental issues, including the stalled GRP-NDF peace negotiations, human rights, the rising cost of education and the worsening unemployment in the country,” Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said.
Student Christian Movement spokesperson Einstein Recedes said that nowhere in Aquino’s state of the nation address can one find the culture of impunity that persists in the country nor the violent attack on the rally that day.
“All in all, Aquino’s SONA contained rehashed rhetoric and empty promises. The president remained silent on many fundamental issues that the people have long clamored for,” Ridon said, “I’m sorry Mr. President but your spinmeisters have failed you. We are far from impressed. We are indignant.” (With reports from Janess Ann J. Ellao)