Dissent nears boiling point in Duterte’s SONA 2020

From Rappler.com
Original Article: https://rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/dissent-nears-boiling-point-duterte-sona-2020
Article written by Lian Buan and Rambo Talabong

UP Diliman swelled with people even before the scheduled 10 am start of the unified State of the Nation Address (SONA) rally on Monday, July 27.

Tama na, sobra na! (Enough is enough),” printed in huge red letters on a massive white tarpaulin, greeted everyone entering University Avenue just before the program started.

It read like the everyday rally sign of the Left, except that it belonged to the Kilusang Bente Dos, which claimed to be centrist.

“We are neither Left nor Yellow, yun na nga ang gusto naming sabihin eh. Ito ‘yung sentimyento ng mas nakararaming mamamayan ng ating lipunan, ang pagpapaalis kay Duterte hindi kailangang meron kang kulay,” said Rizalito David, infamous for his failed candidacies in 2013 and 2016, now a convenor of a group named after the February 22, 1986 People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

(We are neither Left nor Yellow, that’s what we want to say, that this is the sentiment of the majority, the call for Duterte to resign does not need a political color.)

 

The group, formed just months earlier, held up mini posters of what for them were boiling point incidents in the presidency – the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) scandal that jailed already-freed inmates, and the P1.4-trillion infrastructure spending bill that the group thinks stinks of corruption.

 

“Siya ‘yung puno’t dulo ng kahirapan na nadarama natin ngayon (Duterte is the source of all our hardships),” David said.

At the opposite end, in front of the Oblation, young people from the progressive group Anakbayan held up a poster of Duterte and stamped him a terrorist. It was an odd sight because beside them were Churchmen in cassocks led by La Sallian Brother Armin Luistro, who was allied with the other faction – the liberals.

Luistro stood there unassumingly, as if he did not take on a leadership role in bringing together a frustratingly elusive united opposition that gathered around 1,800 people, according to police estimates. Protesters, however, estimated they numbered at least 8,000.

The unified resistance

The coronavirus pandemic may have limited rally logistics – it’s the first grand protest ever to be held ahead of the President’s speech – but it’s also what turned on the heat on already simmering discontent.

“Sa tindi ng problemang hinaharap ng ating bansa, mahalaga ang pagkakaisa, mahalagang isantabi natin ang ating kanya-kanyang pagkakaiba,” said Liberal Party Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan  in his taped video message to the protest on Monday. (The problems the country is facing today are so bad that it’s important to unite and set aside our differences.)

 

For Pangilinan, the last time this happened was 20 years ago during the EDSA Dos Revolution in 2000 that overthrew the presidency of Joseph Estrada.

Pangilinan’s view of unity is reminiscent of his impassioned appeal during the 2019 midterm elections, when tensions rose between the liberals and Left, and bickering punctuated a landslide loss for all of them.

But it appears, at least for now, that this is behind them.

Prominent Left figure, Renato Reyes of Bayan, even credited Pangilinan for planning the unified protest called the #SONAgkaisa.

“It was initiated by, the inviting personalities were Senator Kiko Pangilinan, Sister Mary John Mananzan, and Brother Armin Luistro was the one who facilitated, Bishop (Broderick) Pabillo was also there, that was before he got sick, and we decided to hold a common activity for SONA,” Reyes told Rappler on the sidelines of the rally Monday morning.

That they are showing a united front is historic achievement in itself, and signals what appears to be a less fractured opposition to lead the growing resistance movement. 

Resign or oust?

In the famed Hong Kong democracy protests, a focal point of the resistance is a categorical call for leader Carrie Lam to resign. 

The Left turned that up a notch higher: a call to oust Duterte.

 

The last speaker of the program was Bahaghari’s Rey Salinas, among the arrested Pride 20, who unfurled a rainbow-colored “Oust Duterte” sign on stage, left fist in the air, shouting: “Duterte, patalsikin!” (Oust Duterte)

An ouster call, however, is a very touchy point in this fragile alliance.

Former Bayan Muna representative and longtime activist Teddy Casiño said that the Left and the liberals almost had a lasting coalition in July 2018 during Duterte’s 4th SONA – until a few months later that year when the supposed Red October plot to oust Duterte reopened the crevices. 

Vice President Leni Robredo, the LP, and its allied groups, had to go on record to say they do not want to oust Duterte.

Chel Diokno, who ran as senator in 2019 under LP, and among the lead organizers, said he “understands why people are making that call.”

“Every person has the right to express themselves, sa tingin ko lang marami nang hindi satisfied sa mga nangyayari, at hindi na rin satisfied sa pag-manage ng COVID, so I really understand why people are making that call,” he told Rappler.

(Every person has the right to express themselves, and for me there are many people not satisfied with what’s happening, and not satisfied with how COVID is being managed, so I really understand why people are making that call.)

 

For, Neri Colmenares, the Left’s candidate in the 2019 senatorial elections, whether the call is to resign, to oust, or otherwise, a common message clearly emerged.

“The consensus here is President Duterte is the worst leader we could ever have in times of crisis. He has no competence to lead a nation in times of crisis, especially in a pandemic like COVID,” said Colmenares.

'They agitated, outraged the people'

Political analyst Ela Atienza, chair of the UP Department of Political Science, said that foremost, the expansion of the opposition coalition was born out of the frustration of people over the government’s coronavirus response. 

It tapped a critical strand of the population: the middle class.

“Because of the pandemic, a lot of middle class was affected by the pandemic and the government’s response. Some of them had difficulty with their businesses and jobs, and many are turning to social media for their frustrations,” Atienza said.

For Colmenares, the passage of the feared anti-terror law paved the political crossroad for Duterte. The pull to unite the broad-based coalition strengthened, Casiño added, during deliberations for the passage of the controversial legislation.

“They realized that it will hit ordinary people. They realized that even though the law was meant to target Leftists, it still needed to be opposed. Because if the law can hit the Left, it can hit everyone,” Casiño said.

 

In the Supreme Court, the unified voice is further amplified by the 19 petitions so far coming from all sides, including a former soldier, Magdalo’s Ashley Acedillo, who joined the Antonio Carpio-UP Law case.

Then the ABS-CBN shutdown happened.

Government pulled the plug on the biggest television network, and with it, the regular entertainment and news source for millions of Filipinos.

Journalists and media workers, raised in a culture that upholds neutrality to a fault, were suddenly thrust to the frontline of resistance.

Veteran journalist Ces Drilon took to the stage Monday, and spoke at a rally for the first time ever in her more than 3-decade decorated career.

“Narito po ako ngayon dahil lubha na pong nakababahala ang kalagayan ng ating lipunan (I am here because the state of our society is already very disturbing),” Drilon began her speech, before pausing to say how much it makes her nervous.

Drilon, among the first to be let go by ABS-CBN in its mass retrenchment, said it was crucial that she spoke.

“What really compelled me was – all these arguments I see on social media from trolls, and maybe legitimate followers, that ABS-CBN closure is not equal to press freedom, and I really want to say my piece why it’s connected,” Drilon told Rappler after.

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