“Our fight goes on and we won’t bring down our banners.”
By KAREN ANN MACALALAD
MANILA – July 25 was a historic event, as the 30,000-strong contingent of peasants, workers, indigenous peoples, professionals, urban poor, students and various sectors marched to the House of Representatives in Quezon City, without battling through barbed wires and policemen with truncheons, to amplify their calls and the people’s agenda in time for President Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (Sona).
Yesterday’s rally was highlighted by a lot of superlatives and firsts: it had the biggest contingent from the regions, including some 8,000 peasants, indigenous people and urban poor from Mindanao and Bicol; it was the first rally to have a six-panel mural instead of an effigy; it was most peaceful and tension-free, as police allowed marchers to go near the Batasang Pambansa complex, where the first Mindanaoan president delivered the Sona, which, for the first time, gave the marchers something to cheer about.
At the end of the rally, and just when they least expected it,rally leaders were invited – for the first time – inside Congress to talk to the President.
“Today is historic because it tells how the people stood against the six-year disaster of the Aquino administration. Our participation shows the failure of his (counter-insurgency program) Oplan Bayanihan in Mindanao,” said Bai Ali Indayla, spokesperson of people’s caravan Manilakbayan 2016.
The continuous mass campaigns by peoples organizations, as well as the tactical offensive operations by the revolutionary movement, shook former president Benigno Aquino III’s term, proof of how the “reactionary” government can never address the needs of the people in Mindanao, she added.
Rallyists brought big murals that depict the 15-point People’s Agenda on economic development, good governance, social policy, peace and human rights and foreign policy. The five-hour program featured each sector’s demands and struggles.
Calls to end poverty and injustice
Primary in the rallyists’ calls is the resumption of peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which, they said, can help end the centuries-long issue of poverty and oppresion. The negotiations began in 1986, but never progressed beyond the ceasefire agreement. Talks finally collapsed in early 1987, after the Mendiola Massacre that killed 13 farmers, and the Lupao Massacre in Nueva Ecija.
“Peace has a direct relation to the lives of the people – if there is hunger, there is no peace,” said Rev. Ramil Aguilar of Iglesia Filipina Independiente. Peace is dependent on justice and should be fought hard for by the people, he said.
Aside from the resumption of the negotiations, the groups also called for the release of political prisoners, including the 18 NDFP peace consultants.
“It is not a crime to assert other people’s rights and join the movement for societal change. The political prisoners were once leaders of organizations- our voice for land distribution, higher wages and lasting peace,” said Nikki Gamara, daughter of detained NDFP consultant Renante Gamara.
Also foremost in the People’s Agenda are free land distribution to tillers, and national industrialization, which will create more local jobs and achieve social justice for the people, they said.
Land reform goes hand-in-hand with national industrialization to increase food production, explained Jerome Adonis, secretary-general of labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno. He also cited the importance of rebuilding the country’s steel industry to develop the transportation and communication systems without depending on foreign companies.
“All of us want peace, not the peace of the dead, but the peace of the living. We express our willingness and readiness to go to the negotiating table, and yet we load our guns, fix our sights, pull the trigger,” President Duterte said in his state of the nation address.
As he came to the part declaring a unilateral ceasefire in the government’s operations against the New People’s Army, the rallyists broke into applause and cheers. The crowd also cheered when Duterte mentioned lowering of personal income tax rates.
The government’s intention to resume the peace talks and end the armed struggle is clear, said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan. “The effectivity of the ceasefire can be measured by the return of our brother Lumad to their communities. The Armed Forces of the Philippines should pull-out their forces from the Lumad’s schools and ancestral lands,” he said.
However, Reyes lamented President Duterte’s statement on continuing current macroeconomic policies. “The president has not cited any specific policies but we call to end the Public-Private Partnership program (of Aquino) and liberalization of the economy,” he said.
Reyes also denounced the continuing extrajudicial killings, including those of drug suspects, and called for due process. Under the Aquino government, 294 victims of extrajudicial killings were recorded by human rights group Karapatan.
Reyes reminded the rallyists to remain vigilant since the alliance with the government does not guarantee that there would be 100 percent agreements on the economic, social, and political reforms and direction needed by Philippine society.
“Our fight goes on and we won’t bring down our banners,” Reyes said.