People’s SONA rally reaches Batasan Road

PROGRESSIVE organizations and activists from all over the country held a rally near the House of Representatives (HOR) as President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 25.

About 30,000 activists, including thousands from Mindanao, Visayas and Bicol, were allowed along Batasan Road that has never seen a rally as big in at least two decades.

In one of the country’s biggest annual rallies, the Philippine National Police (PNP) played an unfamiliar role in simply managing the traffic to allow an unimpeded march by the activists from Quezon Memorial Circle all the way to new rally site.

The police used to put barricades at least two kilometers away from where Presidents deliver their SONA speeches and employed violent dispersal tactics to break the rallies.  They also used to block large contingents of activists from other regions from reaching Metro Manila.

President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to a request made by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan at a dialogue at Malacañan Palace after his inauguration last June 30 that the SONA rally be held near the HOR.

Demands and challenges

The activists demanded that people’s issues such as indigenous people’s rights, agrarian reform, contractualization, and resumption of the peace process with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines be addressed by Duterte in his speech.

They applauded Duterte’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire with the New People’s Army midway into his speech.

“To immediately stop violence on the ground, restore peace in the communities and provide enabling environment conducive to the resumption of the peace talks, I am now announcing a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP-NPA-NDF effective immediately, and call on our Filipinos in the National Democratic Front (NDF) and its forces to respond accordingly,” Duterte said.

Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said that the declaration should mean the end of the militarization of peasant and Lumad communities and a stop to illegal arrests of activists.

Anakbayan national chairperson Vencer Crisostomo for his part said he hopes that the ceasefire means that the government will give attention to resolving the roots of the armed conflict such as social injustices and inequalities.

‘Could be better’

Some sectoral organizations however expressed dissatisfaction when Duterte did not touch on their respective core issues.

Kilusang Mayo Uno chairperson Elmer Labog said he is disappointed that Duterte did not mention about his promise to end contractualization of workers.

In a separate statement, Kabataan Party-list representative Sarah Elago noted the lack of mention of political prisoners.

“He could have done better. He could have allotted a few words with regard to his promise of freeing political prisoners, Elago said.

“Still, the unilateral ceasefire announcement is a welcome development,” she said. # (With reports from AL Ayroso)