By Renato Reyes Jr. / Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
Solidarity and resistance were the key themes of the year 2023. Collective struggle was our response to the worsening crisis in the Philippines and in the world. Many offered the supreme sacrifice so that freedom and democracy could be achieved. The mass struggles waged by oppressed peoples remain our hope and inspiration.
Here are some of the mass movement moments that made their mark in 2023.
The Philippines was part of the global protests against the US-backed Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people in Gaza. The mass actions were staged in Manila and various parts of the country especially in Mindanao. Filipinos abroad also joined the global protests in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Belgium, The Netherlands among others. Defying Philippine police forces, various sectors marched to the Israeli embassy in BGC and the US embassy in Manila to denounce the killings of Palestinians and to demand a #FreePalestine, from the river to the sea. The global movement exposed the depravity and moribund character of the US war machine, the utter bankruptcy of the Zionist project and the justness of armed resistance for national liberation against colonial occupation. In Manila, various groups and the University of the Philippines hosted Filipino-Palestinian refugees from Gaza who were repatriated by the Philippine government but lacked state support to be able to settle and integrate here. Palestine continues to fight even as the year ends, and will continue to fight for freedom well into the new year.
The most sustained mass campaign this year was against the profit-oriented PUV modernization program which aimed to phase-out traditional jeeps, allow for the corporate takeover of local routes, and squeeze more profits from commuters. Strikes were staged in March, November and December of this year. During the March strike, government conceded that it would not phase-out traditional jeeps that are still roadworthy. The government however insisted on the forced consolidation of jeepney routes and franchises to allow the corporate takeover of local routes, and then force the use imported “modern” jeeps that favor foreign manufacturers. So long as the PUVMP remains, the livelihood of drivers and operators would remain threatened. The biggest political victory of the campaign was the tremendous support it garnered from the public who sympathized with the plight of the jeepney drivers and who rejected the profit-oriented modernization scheme. The fight is not over though as the December 31 deadline looms.
3. #AbolishConfidentialFunds, #NoToMaharlikaScam
Fighting corruption was a major campaign for 2023 as groups opposed the Maharlika Investment Fund and the confidential and intelligence funds of top government officials. Protests greeted the signing of the Maharlika Investment Fund as workers and economists expressed concern over the huge allocation, questionable returns, and potential for misuse of the so-called sovereign wealth fund. Makabayan lawmakers meanwhile exposed the questionable rapid utilization of confidential funds by the Office of the Vice President in 2022. The OVP did not have any confidential funds allocated under the GAA of 2022 yet somehow obtained P125 million from a fund transfer authorized by the Office of the President. Public outrage, amid the intensifying contractions among the factions of the ruling elite, made possible the removal of the confidential and intelligence funds of the OVP and the DepEd. The confidential and intelligence funds of the President remained untouched by Congress. Presidential travel funds also significantly increased by 58%, bringing it to a whopping P1.408 billion in 2024.
Fighting historical revisionism and fascism are our sworn duties under a second Marcos regime. This year saw efforts at “rebranding” the Marcos dictatorship with DepEd proposals to remove “Marcos” from “diktadurang Marcos” and the official use of “Bagong Pilipinas” as a call-back to the “Bagong Lipunan” of Martial Law. No amount of “rebranding can hide the crimes of the dictator and cover-up the fascist character of the current Marcos regime. A huge march was held in Manila on September 21 to mark the 51st anniversary of Marital Law. Upon reaching Mendiola, thousands of candles were lit as protesters sang Bayan Ko.
5. #SahodItaas #PresyoIbaba #MahalSaPilipinas
The economic crisis was a key issue throughout the year as we saw inflation quicken, and “shrinkflation” take hold of basic commodities. The first quarter of the year saw rising prices of agricultural food products while the Marcos regime further liberalized importation of agricultural products, instead of supporting local production and clamping down on cartels. The second quarter of the year saw a huge May Day demonstration that brought together various labor groups for the common call for a nationwide wage increase. June 30 meanwhile marked the first anniversary of the Marcos regime with groups marching to Mendiola with a parody of the Tourism Department’s “Love the Philippines”. “Mahal sa Pilipinas” was what many poor Filipinos were saying.
6. #EndImpunity #StopTheKillings
Tyranny and impunity are not forever. This year saw the first criminal case filed against former President Rodrigo Duterte by teacher-lawmaker France Castro of ACT Teachers’ Party. There now seems to be a different government attitude when it comes to cooperating with the ICC, with some quarters saying that ICC prosecutors have indeed been allowed into the Philippines to probe the Duterte drug war. SMNI is no longer untouchable, is the subject of a congressional inquiry and has received a suspension order from both the MTRCB and NTC. Bayan leaders and a journalist have filed civil cases against two of SMNI’s host. Meanwhile, trumped-up cases of “terrorism” vs Southern Tagalog activists have been dismissed at the level of the prosecutors.
One of the most riveting incidents of 2023 was a presscon supposedly presenting “rebel surrenderees” Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro. But instead of the usual government gloating, the two young environmental activists turned the tables on the NTF-ELCAC and exposed that they were actually abducted by the military, held against their will in a safe house, and coerced into signing documents that claimed they were rebels. It was a moment of great courage that shook the military establishment. The fascist abductors scrambled for an explanation and then decided to charge the youth activists with “perjury”. Jhed and Jonila have filed a writ of amparo before the Supreme Court and remain active in their environmental advocacy. Many victims of abductions, like Dexter Capuyan and Bazoo de Jesus, remain missing to this day.
8. #SONA2023 and the Doble Kara effigy
For Marcos’ second SONA, a broad range of political forces marched along Commonwealth Avenue to press for higher wages, lower prices and an immediate response to the worsening economic crisis. Bayan brought out the Doble Kara effigy which showed the duplicitous character of the Marcos regime – one that claims to be different from previous puppet regimes but is fundamentally the same. The effigy was burned during the protest, the first for a Marcos SONA. For this act of protest, Bayan artist Max Santiago was slapped with trumped up charges such as violations of the Clean Air Act and the Solid Waste Management Act. Both cases were eventually dismissed by the QC prosecutor.
Last April 24, progressive organizations paid tribute to revolutionary heroes in the struggle for genuine freedom and democracy over the last 50 years. Many of them were victims of extrajudicial killings and summary executions, while others died in battle with the fascist forces. More than a thousand people attended the outdoor event that recognized the contributions of Jose Ma. Sison, Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Austria, Fidel Agcaoli, Antonio Zumel, Jorge Madlos, Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, Ericson Acosta, Kerima Tariman, Kamil Manangan, and many others. In the event, speakers asserted that revolutionaries are not terrorists but freedom fighters who loved the masses and wanted a just and lasting peace for the Philippines.
On November 23, the GRP and NDFP signed the Oslo Joint Statement signifying the intent of both parties to pursue peace negotiations to address the roots of the armed conflict. The move was welcomed by various democratic forces and even the political parties in Congress. Human rights groups sought the release of political prisoners including the NDFP peace consultants and the removal of the terrorist designation against the NDFP and the CPP and NPA. Meanwhile, Vice President Sara Duterte openly opposed the resumption of the talks, calling the Oslo Joint Statement “an agreement with the devil.” The fascist mindset drew widespread criticism from the people and pushback from her political foes. With guarded optimism, we await the results of the possible meetings that will take place next year, even as we continue to fight for a just and lasting peace in the framework of the national democratic struggle. #