President Rodrigo Duterte sprung another surprise tonight by addressing the protest rally outside the House of Representatives after delivering his second State of the Nation Address. It turned out though he too would be surprised by his unprecedented move.
Fresh from delivering a speech in front of an overwhelmingly servile audience, Duterte should have known the leftist protesters would be an entirely different crowd altogether. The protesters he made to wait under pouring rain are tens of thousands of victims of his government’s failed promises and are not the crowd to applaud his rambling speeches and his crude brand of levity. Furthermore, he should not have expected them to remain silent while he spoke.
Even before he could really launch into his speech, the president was met with chants—something he did not expect to hear, nor want to, for sure. “No to martial law! No to martial law!” the crowd shouted. Duterte reverted to his customary mode and told his audience to shut up and just listen. “Huwag muna! Patapusin mo muna ako diyan!” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
The president reminded the drenched crowd he still has leftists in his cabinet. He said he is only trying to make everyone happy, that he means to spend billions for poor people and agrarian reform would happen given time. He said he does not own government and that he only receives his salary for all that he does.
But those are the words the protesters did not want to hear. They wanted categorical statements on their most pressing problems. “Manggagawang kontraktwal, gawing regular!” the workers shouted. “Militar sa kanayunan, palayasin!” bellowed the Lumad in front of the stage.
It is hard to guess what Duterte was thinking at that point, but he clearly did not like the people telling him what they demand of their president. “E kung ganyan ang turing niyo sa akin, parang kalaban, wala na. ‘Wag na tayong mag-usap!” he said. “Pati ako, gusto niyong patayin…Pag-uwi ko galing Marawi, ambush-in niyo ako,” he added.
There was a brief moment when Duterte lifted the crowd’s spirits up. “Ang relasyon ko sa Left, ok pa,” he said. Inexplicably, he immediately turned it into a threat that definitely did not help any. “Huwag niyong sirain kasi magkasamaan tayo ng loob. Damay ako, damay kayo,” he said.
The crowd responded with another chant of “Peace talks, ituloy!” to which Duterte typically responded, “Hanap kayong maganda diyan, iharap sa akin.” He then again said, “In-ambush niyo ako!” referring to the Arakan, North Cotabato incident last week. It was the first time anyone has heard he was there.
It was clear at this time the protesters wanted a dialogue with Duterte and they did not want to listen to more of what they have already heard him say in his SONA. He should have taken the cue when the crowd affirmatively answered him when he asked if he should release all political prisoners. “Oo!” the crowd roared, but Duterte missed it.
It was immediately after this exchange that Duterte let out what he really wanted to say to the Left. “Kailangan tahimik (kayo). Mag-respetuhan tayo. Huwag niyo akong i-ambush,” he said. Coupled with his earlier statement that the Left should give him time, he really wanted their silence while he focuses on what he says must be done first. The President did not appear before the protesters to listen; he was there to issue an order.
For someone who claims to be a leftist himself and for someone who never tires of reminding the Left of his ties with their comrades in his home region, it was hard to believe he now misjudges them badly. The Left has never made secret its opposition to martial law, the militarization of the countryside, environmental plunder, contractualization of labor, human rights violations and other social ills left unresolved by the Duterte administration. To ask them to be silent, even for just a period of time, is asking for them to be complicit. It is something no one could ever imagine they would, because they never had.
A visibly disappointed Duterte abruptly ended his speech and left the stage in a huff. But he must know, his appearance and speech has left the crowd even more disappointed. “Bakit pa siya pumunta?” was a question many asked as they ended the SONA protest made bizarre by a guest who invited himself. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)