By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA – Police employed water cannons, truncheons and, for the first time, a sonic weapon, in an attempt to disperse rallyists who gathered today, Nov. 12, to protest US President Donald Trump’s visit and the opening of the 2017 summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean).
But these were all in vain, as the rallyists, estimated at 9,000 by its organizer, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), were unfazed in spite being hosed down, beaten with truncheons and intimidated. At past 10 AM, members of various progressive organizations attempted to march to the Asean venue at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) but were blocked at the corner of Taft avenue and Padre Faura street by scores of anti-riot police. The marchers stood their ground even as police bombarded them with water cannons in two waves.
After the summit opening this morning, President Duterte had a formal meeting with Trump. Several bilateral meetings were also held today between Asean member countries and non-member countries Russia, Japan, United States (US), and China.
Progressives lambasted the Asean summit and the presence of Trump whose country is not even a member, but also President Duterte, whose full turnaround from an independent foreign policy and pro-people stance is reflected in the country’s lavish spending in hosting the summit, as well as in his administration’s policies favoring big business and foreign investors and militarism.
Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr condemned the dispersal, particularly the use of the sonic device, which targeted not only the protesters, but all within hearing range.
As of press time, he said 57 were injured, four of them had to be treated to a hospital.
Since last week, protesters have launched a series of protests dubbed “Ban Trump,” but have been blocked by anti-riot police armed with truncheons, water cannons, and earlier, a long-rage acoustic device (LRAD), a sonic sound system that temporarily obstructs one’s sense of hearing.
Armed men were also spotted around the protest area, a clear violation of the law on Public Assembly, or Batas Pambansa 880.
Joined by progressive leaders from the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives, protesters marched from Liwasang Bonifacio to Taft Avenue to condemn neoliberal policies which they said are only strengthened by such meetings of the regional bloc.
Imperialist interests prevail
Duterte sits as Asean chairman this year, as the Philippines takes its turn as summit host, coinciding on the regional bloc’s 50th year. With the summit theme, “Partnering for change, engaging the world,” the Asean leaders are expected to tackle issues on security and nuclear threats to the region, as well as the dispute in the South China Sea.
For 50 years, Asean has been a venue to discuss trade policies among its member nations. Progressives have criticized the regional bloc and similar formations for being merely tools of globalization and neoliberal policies that target the natural and human resources of developing countries for plunder and exploitation by monopoly capitalists.
“The Asean summit offers nothing but imperialist or neoliberal programs and policies that will put poor Filipinos into a much deeper poverty and misery, and we are already suffering from such and its consequences are exactly what we are objecting about,” Anakpawis Partylist Representative Ariel Casilao said.
Leaders from Mindanao, Jerome Aba of Suara Bangsamoro and Vennel Chenfoo of Patriotiko Mindanao, said the island is gradually being sold to foreign investors, as manifested by the increase in the number of plantations.
For workers, neoliberalism translates to the Philippines being the supplier of cheap labor. By opening up the economy, the Philippine government promises to supply semi-skilled laborers to big foreign corporations and employers. With unstable and unreliable protection of the government provided to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), there is no doubt that liberalization will only be to their detriment.
“For the youth, this also spells the seamless transfer and sellout of intellectual capital for the students, as our education system is shaped to further meet the demands of their market through reforms such as K-12 and the academic calendar shift,” said Kabataan Partylist Representative Sarah Elago.
Aside from economic impositions, developing countries are also pushed into lop-sided defense agreements with military powers like the US. In the Philippines, the chief trade-off is seen in the construction of military bases and joint military exercises for US to further its counterinsurgency and anti-terrorist campaigns.
A leader of Anakbayan-Southern Tagalog said 29 battalions of military have been deployed in their region, leading to the displacement of about 100 families and the arrest of several farmers based on trumped up charges.
Heightened militarization in the Philippines is also a red flag for women’s safety.
“Trump’s meeting with President Duterte raises the specter of increased militarization across the country and the region, with the Philippine government being the good imperialist lapdog that it has been for the longest time. This is an omen for women who have experienced rape and other forms of abuses in the hands of US soldiers, and for farmer and fisherfolk who have been displaced by military exercises,” said Gabriela Women’s Partylist Representative Emmi De Jesus.
Despite being met with violence, the protesters continued with the program in Taft Avenue, culminating with the burning of the effigy dubbed “Fascist Spinner,” which depicted Trump like a swastika, with four hands holding capital, a gun, a nuclear bomb, and a backhoe depicting US plunder of the environment.