By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Thousands marched to Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang Monday, Nov. 30 to remember and honor the Katipunan Supremo, Andres Bonifacio, on his 152nd birthday.
From the speeches of leaders of progressive peoples’ organizations, Andres Bonifacio’s consciousness lives on, and his aspirations continue to be the peoples’ aspirations. Nothing has essentially changed from the time his fierce desire for freedom drove him to form the Katipunan and lead the first organized armed revolution against foreign colonizers.
But “even though the Spanish conquistadors had been driven out, our nation remained under foreign imperialist control,” said Joms Salvador, leader of women’s alliance Gabriela. In a speech at Recto, she discussed how such semi-colonial status brings oppression to Filipino people, especially women. She said more women are unemployed and in reserve labor, and more women receive a correspondingly lower pay.
Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairperson of Kilusang Mayo Uno, said Filipinos today need to fight “the new form of colonialism which still dominates the country, as shown by the thrust of the recently-concluded Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit held in the Philippines of serving the interests of big foreign capitalists to the detriment of workers and Filipinos.”
“One hundred fifty-two years after Bonifacio was born, Filipino workers are suffering from worsening hunger, poverty and indebtedness as a result of starvation wages. And the Philippines continues to be treated as a colony of big foreign powers,” said Labog. He called on workers to emulate the heroism of Bonifacio, to fight for the Filipino’s economic and political interests and motherland. “Filipino workers will continue to be exploited and oppressed until the country is set free from present-day colonialism,” added Labog.
“Those saying that revolution is now passe, that it is just a memory, are mistaken. That wrong idea is only being disseminated by those in power,” youth leader Einstein Recedes said in his speech at Mendiola.
“For the poor, revolution will never be over. As long as we remain hungry, revolution will go on,” Recedes added.
The organizations that marched and honored Bonifacio with calls to continue his “unfinished revolution” had declared as theme of their protest the statement that the Philippines is not free until its people ceases to be hungry.
Poverty, oppression, foreign rule still the bane of Filipino lives
“The country’s worsening poverty is not going to be solved if the people will only silently endure it,” said Recedes.
In another speech, leader of Alliance of Workers Unity, Rea Alegre, said the Filipino people continues to have hope because they continue to struggle for freedom from local and foreign oppressors.
Aside from Recedes and Alegre, other sectoral leaders elaborated on the continuing poverty and oppression of Filipinos until now, despite the rosy announcements of supposed economic growth and “good governance.”
Anakpawis Representative Fernando Hicap said the proposal for P125 across-the-board and nationwide wage hike which he refiled continues to languish in Congress. It has not even been given one committee hearing. The proposed wage hike was first filed in Congress in 2003 by Rep. Crispin Beltran, then representative of Bayan Muna. Then and now, it is deemed as the much-needed workers’ immediate relief.
But “President Aquino himself was opposed to wage hike saying it will hinder foreign investors,” said Hicap at Mendiola.
He said the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill which merited four committee hearings at least will not likely be enacted this 16th Congress. “President Aquino himself was opposed to it because of Hacienda Luisita,” said Hicap. Despite the Supreme Court decision, the peasants in Hacienda Luisita are still being denied their lands, he said.
“An agrarian reform program is very important in resolving the causes of poverty of most Filipinos,” said Rafael Mariano, former Anakpawis Partylist representative. Giving land to its tillers, he said, is important to addressing hunger and building the basis for industrializing the economy, which, in turn, will create more jobs aside from addressing the peoples’ needs.
For George San Mateo, president of Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahang ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (Piston), even the ordered phaseout of “old” public utility jeepneys showed proof not only of the Aquino administration’s “hypocrisy” but also its likely failure at achieving modernization since the Philippines is not industrializing. He said phasing out the jeepney in favor of “new jeepneys” from foreign suppliers approved by the government will merely deepen the country’s dependence on foreign products and fuel, as well as increase fares.
As the progressive groups remembered and honored Bonifacio, they raised alternatives to the current setup where the leader in Malacañang is “just a puppet” of imperialist masters. And right now, they said he is implementing laws pushing for neoliberal policies, a set of policies for maximizing profits and minimizing or denying people’s income and benefits.
Roger Soluta, vice chairperson of Kilusang Mayo Uno, cited the imperialist and neoliberal policies serving mainly the big capitalists, for instance deregulation, liberalization, privatization. These, he said, “directly attack wages.”
Alegre said that among the country’s working people, the main attacks of neoliberal policies are wrought by wage regionalization or rationalization, and so-called salary standardization law. She blamed these for keeping wages low, and the workers divided.
Youth leader Recedes, public sector employees leader Ferdie Gaite, urban poor leader Bea Arellano, all discussed also in their speeches how neoliberal policies are directly attacking their sector and the Filipino people.
They said the youth have difficulties accessing quality education. Everyone has trouble accessing affordable, quality health services and efficient transportation. The urban poor are rendered more vulnerable to disasters, harassment and joblessness.
“Freedom from poverty can only be achieved when we’ve advanced national democratic struggle with socialist perspective,” Soluta said.
But such solutions to poverty – these include genuine agrarian reform, national industrialization, among others – these are being frustrated and prevented by the likes of the “haciendero president” Aquino, leaders of progressive groups said.
“If the land is being denied its tillers, how do you distribute it in a genuine land reform?”
In response, Recedes quoted a student who once discussed this with him. He said the student quickly replied: “let’s seize it.”
But given that the landowners have the support of the government and it is using brute force and arms to counter land reform and demands for industrialization, how do you address that? asked Recedes.