Thousands set to march for change on Duterte’s SONA 2017

Leaders of progressive peoples’ organizations depict their intent to submit a list of 20-point urgent demands to Pres. Duterte on People’s SONA 2017. (Photo from Arkibong Bayan)

‘At this point, the negatives outweigh whatever positive measures that have been achieved by the progressives in government for the past year.’


MANILA – Change is coming . . . in the mood of this year’s SONA rally.

On President Duterte’s second SONA (State of the Nation Address) this July 24, he will encounter a different sentiment from last year’s optimism. Last year, 30,000 people joined the march to the Batasang Pambansa. Leaders of progressive people’s organizations submitted to President Duterte a list of the people’s agenda for change. The president received it on his inauguration day on June 30, and he was followed up on it when he met with leaders of these groups after SONA.

A year later, “Some promises remain unfulfilled, some have been withdrawn,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). “There is a feeling of utter dismay, gross disappointment and in many cases, rightful indignation,” said the statement of Bayan distributed to the media during a press conference on Monday, July 17.

Duterte claimed he is a leftist, but Bayan noted his regime is drifting to the Right. That his administration has many anti-people and anti-national policies. “At this point, the negatives outweigh whatever positive measures that have been achieved by the progressives in government for the past year,” said Bayan.

And so, unlike last year, the July 24 People’s Sona will be a protest rally. It will be as big, or possibly bigger, than last year’s, given that there are a lot of problems and grave issues needing to be raised, said Reyes. As early as July 23, protesters from the provinces would be arriving already in Metro Manila.

“It is of utmost importance for the president to hear the real situation of the country and respond to the issues and demands of our people this coming July 24,” Reyes said.

Bakwit from militarization again

At the press conference for the People’s SONA 2017, the state of the national minorities gives a clear picture of why their mood this Sona has changed.

“We’re elated when Duterte became president. We welcomed his promised change, his avowal for an independent foreign policy, and the fact that after a year in the evacuation, we can go back home,” said Eufemia Cullamat of Kasalo from Caraga. She witnessed the military’s encirclement of their community while a para-military group harassed their community. It ended in the killing of three Lumad leaders and educators two years ago. It forced them to evacuate to Tandag City in early September 2015. Their community, their school, and farms were then reportedly desecrated and occupied by the military. They returned home only in September last year amid renewed peace negotiations between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF.

SONA 2017
Eufemia Cullamat, Kasalo -Caraga (Bulatlat Photo July 2017)

But their elation was short-lived. “We did not experience, we did not feel, any change,” Cullamat said. Worse, when Martial Law was declared last May 23 over Mindanao and the peace talks became its first casualty, the militarization of minorities’ communities intensified. Cullamat’s community was wrenched back to the point they had to hurriedly pack and evacuate again.

Pounded by increased air strikes of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and with the arrival of more ground troops, Cullamat said more Lumad and Moro are forced to evacuate. Most came from Marawi, but there were also bakwits from Davao del Sur and Basilan and from Cullamat’s community in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

And so, in the beginning of the Duterte regime, they were bakwits with a rosy prospect of going back home after Duterte revived the peace negotiations. But weeks before Duterte’s second SONA, they became bakwits again due to heavy militarization.

For People’s Sona 2017 Cullamat is calling for an end to Martial Law. “It is an ineffective solution to the problems of national minorities and the Moro,” she said.

Instead of martial law, she called on the Duterte government to pursue peace talks. “Here is where we see the appropriate responses to the Moro and indigenous people’s concerns,” said Cullamat.

Militarization has also closed down 27 of Lumad and indigenous schools. The Save Our Schools network, with 89 member schools, recorded a spike in incidences of schools being harassed by the military after the Martial Law declaration.

Also, while various groups get ready to join the nationwide protest march on Duterte’s second SONA, delegates of workers groups were already camped out in Metro Manila. Mining and plantation workers in Caraga whose struggle for regular jobs was being crushed with Martial Law camped out in front of the Labor department for a week since July 10 and moved to Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang on February 17. There they intend to camp out until the second SONA when they would march with other workers to bring their urgent demands to the president.

From hopeful to disappointed: A year of raising the people’s issues, agenda

For a year, people’s organizations and various groups raised their most urgent concerns in various venues, including street protests, dialogues, and summits with the Duterte administration.

Danilo Ramos of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas recalled that on February 3 last year in his campaign Duterte attended their presidential forum. On June 30 after his inauguration, he made commitments to the peasants. “He told us, ‘the KMP is right: the government’s land reform program is a failure.’ He said no farmer community would be demolished, the coco levy would be restored to the coconut farmers. His own mother died without getting her share of that levy. He shared that there are six million public lands up for distribution to the peasants,” Ramos said of Pres. Duterte.

“But after a year, the peasants are frustrated and disappointed,” Ramos said.

The peasant demands today continue to include the following: land to the tillers and free land distribution; dismantling of haciendas and plantations and distribution to tenants and agriworkers. It continued also to have the following defense for these peasants: ‘stop killing the peasants (67 were killed under the Duterte administration) who feed the nation, put an end to Martial Law.’

The solution to these continuing peasant concerns are genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization, Ramos said. It is already being tackled in CASER (Comprehensive Agreement on SocioEconomic Reforms) which is on the table in the stalled peace talks.

Leaders of other progressive groups, from the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) to Kadamay, Gabriela, Anakbayan, and Alliance of Concerned Teachers, recalled the promised reforms by Duterte at the start of his term. Most of these ended up in reversal or in limbo.

Bong Labog, the chairperson of KMU, said Duterte’s promised anti-contractualization policy did not really end it. “Instead of becoming regular on the job, the workers are being fired or transferred,” he said.

“Duterte said he didn’t want the workers in the provinces to get less and so he would pursue a national minimum wage, but nothing came out of it,” Labog said. Worse, he added, the Philippines ranked no. 4 in the International Trade Union Confederation’s listing of worst countries for workers in terms of trade union repression.

On June 30 last year, Bea Arellano of urban poor group Kadamay recalled how President Duterte dined with them in Del Pan and promised changes to the lives of the poor. “We’ll have light, jobs – there’ll be steel industry development near the relocation houses,” Arellano recalled Duterte telling them that night.

But they had to launch house occupation of vacant housing projects before their plight got the president’s attention again. “The Duterte administration’s drug war is killing the poor first. Why not give attention to the rich involved in drugs?” Arellano asked. Nowadays she said the poor are doubly concerned not just by usual poverty but by the added complication of increased police and military presence in urban poor communities.

There is similar deepening frustration among women, students, teachers and health workers. “Many women listened with high hopes when Duterte promised to end contractualization, pursue rice sufficiency,” said Gabriela’s Joms Salvador. But one year after, she said contractualization even grew worse. She estimates that up to 80 or 90 percent of women workers are now contractuals.

Duterte’s promised attention to family health and executive order on family planning are “sadly still under the neoliberal framework,” said Salvador. This means that much of it is still being run for profit and as such hard to reach for low-income families. She explained that the ban on home-birthing did not lessen but increase maternal deaths because there is no corresponding increase in public health facilities.

Even the free tuition fee demanded by the youth has been “reversed” by the Duterte administration through the conditions it imposed before students can avail of it, said Vencer Crisostomo of Anakbayan.

“Duterte acts like he’s brave when he speaks but he’s cowardly before the US and China,” Crisostomo said at the press conference. “He proved nothing to the youth but to US and China he’s mendicant.”

Cristina Palabay of Karapatan said families of victims of human rights violations would also take part in the People’s SONA. Duterte gave crumbs to victims of rights violations, and unleashed a storm of new rights violations through his drugs war and Martial Law, Palabay said.

Come the People’s SONA 2017, these demands such as land reform, ending labor contractualization, implementing a national minimum wage, pursuing the peace process, releasing all political prisoners, improving social services and as such reversing the anti-poor neoliberal policies of privatization, among others, these would again be included in the 20-point “Urgent People’s Demands” for SONA 2017, Reyes of Bayan said at the press conference.

Bayan noted that after a year, many people’s demands appear to have been rejected by the Duterte administration. Even Duterte’s nationalist pronouncements on pursuing an independent foreign policy “have been reversed as seen from US military intervention in Marawi,” Bayan said.

It also pointed to Martial Law as a major concern of the people, given the human rights violations it results to, and its deleterious effects on the peace process.

Bayan said they will submit the 20-point urgent demands of the people, and they expect a firm response, by SONA day. (

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