by Cong B. Corrales and Julius D. Mariveles
While members of Congress, guests and foreign dignitaries clapped their hands to a melodramatic State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Benigno S. Aquino III, Filipinos from different walks of life listened to fired-up “alternative” SONAs in the streets, Monday.
As with the other Presidents and SONAs in the past, left-leaning militants held a SONA of their own along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, the main thoroughfare heading to the Batasan.
President Aquino’s penultimate SONA comes on the heels of the now controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP)—parts of which the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional.
Multi-sectoral organizations under the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) marched along Commonwealth Avenue but were stopped by several layers of defense that include cyclone wire fences, four 20-foot container vans and a phalanx of anti-riot police.
The Department of Public Order and Safety of Quezon City estimated the crowd at 10,000 individuals. But Quezon City Police District gave a more conservative estimate at 7,000 to 8,000 people.
Despite the obstructions, the protesters still managed to hold their own SONA dubbed: “People’s SONA” on two fronts. The bigger was held along Commonwealth Avenue using a flatbed truck as a stage while another contingent managed to slip past security and held their own SONA at least 50 meters shy of the North Gate of the House of Representatives in Batasan Hills.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Secretary-General Renato Reyes said that they have leveled-up their call to an “ouster” campaign since President Aquino appeared to be sounding more like a “tyrant” in his recent pronouncements.
Reyes cited the President’s July 14 speech on live television where it was like “PNoy is saying that he is beyond the reach of the Supreme Court.”
“We filed an impeachment against the President. He should be held accountable to the people regarding the scandal that is DAP. Hindi nararapat, hindi na uubra. Hindi na patatapusin pa ang kanyang termino,” Reyes said.
He added that aside from the impeachment cases they filed against the President, they are also filing a case with the Office of the Ombudsman.
“Aquino will be condemned as the President who brought back the US military bases and sold out the nation’s sovereignty through the PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA),” said Reyes.
Meanwhile, a different contingent led by women’s rights organization, Gabriela—numbering about a hundred—came out from their communities in Payatas and other neighboring communities in the second district and massed up along IBP Road, near the North Gate of the Batasan Pambansa Complex.
The protesters near the House of Representatives consisted mostly of women and children who tried to get near the complex but were held back by a phalanx of anti-riot police.
Representatives from the Makabayan bloc—Karlos Zarate (Bayan Muna), Luz Ilagan (Gabriela), Terry Ridon (Kabataan), Antonio Tinio (Act), Neri Colmenares (Bayan Muna), Emmi de Jesus (Gabriela), and Fernando Hicap (Anakpawis)—joined the protesters near the Batasan Complex after they walked out on the President’s SONA.
“We walked out because we know that he (President Aquino) will just lie again to defend the unconstitutional DAP,” Tinio told the protesters.
There were other sectors that were dismayed with the President’s report to the nation.
Advocates pushing for the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill noted how the President again avoided any mention of the FOI bill in his SONA, even though he claims to espouse transparency and accountability.
Three days before the SONA, members of the Right To Know, Right Now! Coalition delivered to Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda at least 38,000 signatures they gathered from a petition calling for the President and Congress to take decisive action on the FOI bill.
The information advocates had hoped that President Aquino would at least mention the FOI in his presentation of his legislative agenda.
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) Chair Rowena Paraan expressed her disappointment on her Facebook wall saying: “Wala na naman ang FOI.”
For his part, NUJP Cagayan de Oro Chapter Chair Froilan Gallardo reacted to the President’s statement that his administration did well in responding to Typhoon Yolanda last November.
“In his SONA, President Aquino says the government response to Tacloban during typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan was quick and decisive. Aquino even praised DILG Mar Roxas and Defensec Voltaire Gazmin. #%& Ugh! Every journalist who covered Leyte and Tacloban knows the truth,” said Gallardo.