PROGRESSIVE groups led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) marched to Mendiola on the day of President Rodrigo Duterte’s inauguration.
Unlike so many times in the past they were not blocked by the police. This time, the police officers assisted them and managed the flow of vehicular traffic to allow an unimpeded march by the activists.
At Mendiola, the rallyists held a program to present their 15-point People’s Agenda to the President who was just then taking his oath of office. The demands include ending poverty, implementing genuine agrarian reform, ending contractual labor, punishing corrupt government officials, asserting national sovereignty, and resuming the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
But the absence of angry slogans at today’s rally does not mean the activists have been coopted by the new President, Reyes clarifies.
“That’s far from happening,” he said. “There will be cooperation with the President on the basis of pro-people and progressive programs and policies, Pero ‘yung struggle,nandyan pa rin. Lalabanan pa rin natin ‘yung mga ayaw sa pagbabago, ‘yung mga gustong panatiliin ‘yung status quo,” Reyes said. (The struggle is still there. We will still fight those who don’t want change, those who want to maintain the status quo.)
Reyes also reminded fellow activists that a friendly President does not warrant complacence.
“Hindi natin itutupi ‘yung mga streamers natin; hindi natin itatago ‘yung mga placards natin. The people have a stake in achieving change, so even if we have a President who is friendly to the Left and is open to progressives entering the government, we need to keep pushing for change. Hindi naman tapos itong laban natin,” he said. (We aren’t going to fold up our streamers or hide our placards yet. Our fight is still not over.)
Hope on the streets
Like the activists, Jesus Conde hopes that Duterte can alleviate the people’s widespread poverty. He scrapes by as a peanut vendor to provide for his wife and children. He was vending to the activists at Mendiola.
“Sana sa pag-upo ng administrasyon niya (Duterte), matugunan na ang kahirapan. Siya na lang kasi ang tanging inaasahan naming mahihirap. Marami nang nagdaang administrasyon pero, puro hirap na lang inaabot namin,” he said. (Hopefully, under his administration, poverty is solved. He’s the only one we poor can count on. Many administrations have passed, we have only suffered.)
Conde also hopes that Duterte’s anti-crime and anti-drug advocacy punishes only the big time pushers and not the small fry. He believes many drug dealers and users are driven to such extremes because of poverty.
“Tao rin ‘yon [ang mga maliliit na dealer at user]. Hulihin na lang. Tumbukin na lang ‘yung mastermind, ‘yung gumagawa. ‘Wag yung mga sumisistema lang para makakain.” (The small dealers and users are people too. They should only be apprehended. Take out the masterminds, not those who have no choice but do this to feed themselves.)
During his speech Reyes hinted leaders of the march may have a chance to personally present a copy of the agenda to the newly-minted chief executive. But it was nonetheless a surprise for the most of the activists gathered when a Presidential summons indeed came, albeit through the Presidential Security Group.
With Reyes went Kilusang Mayo Uno’s Elmer Labog, Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago, Karapatan’s Cristina Palabay, Bayan Negros’ Christian Tuayon, Cordillera People’s Alliance’s Windel Bolinget, Bayan Southern Tagalog’s Diego Torres, Caraga Lumad Eufemia Cullamat, Makabayan and P1Nas’ Liza Maza, and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas’ Antonio Flores. Reyes said it was the first time for most of them to have entered the country’s seat of power.
Duterte warmly welcomed them at Malacañan’s Osmeña Room. He received a copy of the People’s Agenda and discussed other issues, among which is the holding of a rally near the House of Representatives when he delivers his first State of the Nation Address on July 25.
At the usual photo ops, it was Duterte who first raised a clenched fist, Reyes said. On a day of firsts, someone beat activists to it for probably the first time as well. # (by Abril Layad Ayroso, with reports from RB Villanueva)