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Stop the Attacks — United People’s SONA 2018

The broadest opposition forces ever assembled against the Duterte administration launched their own United People’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23, 2018 as Pres. Duterte delivers his third SONA before a divided Congress rife in factional power struggles backed by competing big businesses, domestic and foreign. With various performances, protesters slammed Duterte’s violations of people’s rights, called to stop the attacks and demanded justice.

Groups announce People’s United SONA

Various ectors announce their participation in their so-called United People’s SONA to protest what they call President Rodrigo Duterte’s crimes against the people.

Saying they will be joined by a wider spectrum of political forces and individuals in their massive protest action on July 23, the forces also said they want an end to Duterte’s tyranny.

#BabaeAko to hold AMaSONA protest on July 23

By April Burcer

The #BabaeAko campaign announced a protest march on July 23 dubbed AMaSONA (Anti-Misogyny Activists sa SONA) to declare their stand against sexism, misogyny and other acts of injustices.

The announcement was made by a panel composed of Jean Enriquez of World March of Women, actor Mae Paner, Norma Dollaga of Association of Women in Theology, Gert Libang of Gabriela and Anelle Sabanal of Christians for Life and Dignity at a press conference in Bantayog ng mga Bayani Friday morning.

The panel shared women’s issues including the effect of the government’s cancellation of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines on women, prostitution, attacks and harassment on activist women, price increases and the suffering of women the ongoing extra-judicial killings.

The #BabaeAko movement, which started as a social media campaign to denounce attacks and abuses against women they said are led by President Rodrigo Duterte himself.

The campaign launched in May has since grown to become one of the most influential people on the internet according to a recent Time Magazine article.

Senator Leila de Lima, jailed by the Duterte government in what many say is an act of vengeance, expressed her support to the movement.

“To my fellow #AMaSONA, as women and leaders, we have a lot on our plate –not just in the fight against misogyny, but also in addressing other issues of today,” de Lima said in a statement read at the forum.

“I am calling not only on the women but also to the Filipino people who value our freedom and democracy to stand against these attacks and to help our fellow citizens who were tricked into believing Duterte’s lies,” her message read.

The AMaSONA march will join the United People’s SONA on the day of President Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address. #

Destroyer of worlds

In a far from modest and less than truthful description of itself, the Philippine government, said a Malacanang statement, is “headed by someone who has strong political will, decisive leadership, and compassion for his fellow men,” hence the “fruitful” first two years of the six-year Rodrigo Duterte presidency.

How “fruitful” have the past two years of the Duterte regime been? Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in the same statement that the government is winning the “war” on drugs, as evidenced by, he said, the number of police anti-drug operations (91,704 from July 2016 to March 2018), the arrest of 123,648 suspected drug pushers and users, the dismantling of drug dens and laboratories, and the government’s seizure of billions of pesos worth of illegal drugs and laboratory equipment. There’s also the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s (PDEA) declaration of over 6,000 barangay as being “drug free.”

In addition are the “economic feats” — Roque’s words — of the administration and its “independent foreign policy.” The first includes the 6.7 percent growth of the country’s gross domestic product (GRP) in 2017, while the second has “resulted in billions worth of investments that are expected to create thousands of jobs for Filipinos.”

Those “feats,” however, are not of any consequence to the imperative of ending the poverty of nearly 25 percent of Filipinos to which Mr. Duterte said he was committed. Only one percent of the population benefit from economic growth, while the remaining 99 million Filipinos don’t because of the skewed system of wealth distribution that’s one of the worst in Asia. Rooted in the archaic land tenancy system that has defied abolition for centuries, that system has kept millions desperately poor.

But Roque’s statement was nevertheless echoed by former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, who said — without, however, specifying anything — that Mr. Duterte has made good on all his election promises except three. Special Assistant to the President Bong Go said basically the same thing, but was similarly short on the specifics.

None of these three regime worthies mentioned Mr. Duterte’s pre-election promise to enrich funeral parlor owners by killing 100,000 drug pushers and users, which, with four more years to go in his term, he can handily fulfill, 20,000 mostly poor Filipinos including women and children having been killed by the police and their surrogate assassins in only two years since 2016.

Roque’s celebration of his president’s “political will” and “decisive leadership” no doubt refers to his being true to that threat. It certainly doesn’t apply to his promise to pursue “an independent foreign policy,” despite the pledges of billions in investments and aid he has managed to extract from various countries, primarily China.

Those pledges — most are yet to materialize — hardly qualify as either proof or fruit of an independent anything. China’s promise of high interest loans are in fact a trap likely to condemn succeeding generations to indebtedness. Meanwhile, despite his early rants against American intervention and its sordid human rights record in the Philippines, his promise to end Philippine involvement in US war games, and his declaration of “separation” from the US, the country remains bound to US economic and strategic interests. The Mutual Defense Treaty is still in force, and so are the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) despite Mr. Duterte’s control over the majority in Congress, which could have enabled him to have all three abrogated.

As glaring as that reality is, even more flagrantly obvious is Mr. Duterte’s downplaying, and at times even justifying, Chinese imperialism’s brazen violation of Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, where it has built military bases on the artificial islands it has constructed within the the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, barred Filipino fisherfolk from their traditional fishing grounds, and even seized the catch of those who had initially managed to evade its coast guard cutters.

Mr. Duterte’s “compassion for his fellow men” is as mythical as his “independent” foreign policy. It apparently doesn’t include the poor, the marginalized, women, priests, and the Lumad against whom his various other “wars” have been directed.

An Ateneo de Manila University, University of the Philippines and La Salle University study has documented and established the anti-poor character of the killings that have primarily characterized the misnamed “war” against drugs, which has spared drug lords while focusing on small-time drug pushers. Mr. Duterte has even promoted government officials suspected of involvement in the P6.4 billion drug smuggling scandal, while reappointing others he had fired for corruption or made to resign, demonstrating thereby how serious his pledge to end both the drug problem and government corruption has been.

Over the last two years, instead of making an alternative world possible through the initiation of the social and economic reforms the country so desperately needs, Mr. Duterte has laid waste the world — as insecure, problematic and terrifying as it already was — of the widows and orphans of the breadwinners murdered in the course of his selectively anti-poor campaign against illegal drugs. A humanitarian crisis created by those murders is developing, as thousands of wives and children are made even more destitute by the loss of their husbands and fathers.

His order to arrest “istambay” is similarly savaging entire communities. Potentially productive young men — those looking for work but who are unable to find it, as well as those between jobs — are being hauled off to prison together with ne’er-do-wells and petty thieves. Their families are in the process deprived of the help and support of their sons who, among the poor, are their best hopes for survival in a country where the loss or absence of a family member can mean the difference between having food on the table or starving.

As distressing as all of these are, what’s likely to be one of Mr. Duterte’s lasting impacts on Philippine society is his relentless assault on the Constitution and the system of checks and balances which has made authoritarian rule beguiling and democracy repugnant to the uninformed. There is as well his and his minions’ demonization of the media, of the Church, of dissenting and critical women, and of individual clergymen in his apparent belief that they’re potential or actual instruments in a conspiracy to remove him from the power he claims to disdain but in reality so desperately craved.

His rants, ravings, profanities and tirades against critics, human rights defenders, clerics, women and God Himself have further divided a society already fragmented by economic, social and political inequality, and have made rational and informed discourse the subject of scorn among those sectors of the population that need it most. Mr. Duterte’s enshrinement of abuse, impunity, violence, lawlessness, and intimidation as State policies and as substitutes for informed debate and discussion is creating a generation of cynical, ignorant, brutal and mindless citizens and civilian and military bureaucrats who even now venerate, propagate and uphold the very opposite of the values of respect for others and the truth, and the right to free expression necessary in the making of a society of equals in which no one need sleep in fear or under bridges. This is how “fruitful” his first two years in power have been. #

First published in BusinessWorld Photo from PCOO.

Teachers call for 30K salary increase

By April Burcer

Despite the rains, teachers from all over Metro Manila marched Wednesday afternoon (June 4) on EDSA to call for an across-the-board salary increase for mentors and employees in the education sector.

After their General Representatives’ Assembly earlier organized by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers-National Capital Region (ACT-NCR) Union, the teachers also demanded higher education budget and bigger chalk budget, among other issues.

The teachers’ assembly called for an increase in the monthly salary of non-teaching personnel to 16,000 and new teachers to 30,000 as proposed in House Bill 7211 filed by the ACT Teachers Party in Congress.

Joselyn Martinez, ACT-NCR Union President, criticized President Rodrigo Duterte for going back on his promise to increase teachers’ salaries even as he doubled the minimum wages of police and military personnel.

Duterte announced last month that he will increase the salary of teachers, although it will not be as substantial as those received by police and military personnel “because the government cannot afford it.”

ACT said teachers have only recently received a meager increase of 551 pesos per month under Executive Order (EO) No. 201 signed by President Benigno Aquino in 2016 that mandated a four-year pay increase for public sector workers.

ACT Secretary-General Raymond Basilio said that the Office of the President, Vice-President, senators and cabinet secretaries, on the other hand, have enjoyed the highest salary increases under EO 201.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque earlier declared that a special salary increase for teachers will only happen on 2020 when EO 201 is no longer in effect.

“They say we don’t have enough money for the teacher’s salary increase, but they have more than enough budget to pay for our external debt, for military expenses, the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program and pork barrel allocations,” Basilio said.

Overworked but underpaid.

ACT-NCR Union is also calling for better working environment for the overworked teachers.

Under the K-12 program, teachers have to deal with Individual Performance Commitment and Review Form (IPCRF) and other paperwork that eat up a lot of time, Basilio said.

Basilio added the limit of 26 children per class mandated by the Department of Education is also not being implemented, leaving teachers with up to 80 students per class.

Basilio is also concerned that the soon-to-be-implemented Learners’ Information System (LIS) will leave teachers with no sleep because these shall be held throughout the night.

ACT-NCR Union demands free annual medical and dental examination, regulation of class size and teaching load, provision of official time and union time privilege, and improvement of compensation during the next collective negotiation agreement to offset their overworked conditions.

ACT Partylist Representative Franz Castro for her part presented their effort to increase chalk allowance from 2,500 to 5000, augment the Personnel Economic Relief Assistance (PERA) to 5000 pesos, and provide teaching supplies allowance of 5000 pesos per classroom teacher per school year.

However, Castro said that it will not be possible to win this fight without the support of the teachers.

“Let’s join together in the coming State of the Nation Address to voice out our call for salary increases,” Castro said.  #

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. Read more