PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s promises mean nothing in the streets, where the people are out for blood.

Over a hundred politicians cheered and clapped inside the Batasang Pambansa during Arroyo’s eight state of the nation address (SONA) last Monday, but thousands more gathered in protest just a few meters away.

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Akbayan party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel boycotted the SONA, as did Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela partylist representatives and seven senators.

Explaining why she skipped Arroyo’s speech before Congress, Baraquel said: “She’ll just be delivering her usual deceptive litany of achievements and new promises that aren’t meant in the first place to deliver any real good for the people.”

Akbayan, Partido ng Manggagawa, the Alliance of Progressive Labor and other civil society groups held a separate program from a group led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, although they were in the same stretch of the eastbound lane of Commonwealth Avenue, which was closed to traffic. There, speaker after speaker denounced Arroyo, saying that their lives were not getting any better.

Baraquel said that the President has done “very, very poorly.”

“She’s done so much evil to our country in terms of livelihood, by continuing neoliberal policies in agriculture, job security and energy management,” said Baraquel, blaming these for wreaking the grave food, energy and overall economic crisis that Filipinos have been experiencing recently.

To mitigate the impact of the crisis, Baraquel proposed to use the funds generated by the expanded value-added tax (E-VAT) to provide emergency employment to unemployed and underemployed workers.

“They could be employed to build small-scale public works such as local health centers, farm to market roads, and irrigation,” the Akbayan lawmaker said. In addition, these could also provide health, education and agriculture infrastructure that, Baraquel said, “people can immediately benefit from to survive and raise themselves out of the crisis.”
After holding a short program, the rallyists tried to march to St. Peter’s Church for a mass that would be presided by Bishops Antonio Tobias and Deogracias Iñiguez. However, they were blocked by a phalanx of anti-riot policemen in the westbound lane of Commonwealth Avenue just a stone’s throw away from the church. Traffic stalled, but the President’s convoy, consisting of an entourage of siren-bearing sport utility vehicles and a black car with a “Number 1” plate, was able to pass through without any trouble.

There was also a noise barrage just past 3 o’clock in the afternoon, with the shouts and cheers of protesters being joined by tooting buses. A few rallyists scuffled briefly with the police and for a time, protesters fled from the ominous sound of truncheons thunking against metal shields. They soon returned, however, and resumed their positions.

It was over before 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Still, dissatisfaction remained. “It’s going to be another couple of years of struggle against her, because her administration has proven an amazing resiliency to the storms that have buffeted it,” said Baraquel.

“But maybe the combination of the lingering questions about her legitimacy, the rising discontent of ordinary citizens as expressed for example in instruments like the surveys, and really the deepening suffering from the economic crisis would combine to push a sooner and hopefully positive, not worse resolution of the crisis.”

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