Philippine social movement meets Duterte’s curse-laden SONA with huge protest

The mood of this year's progressive social movement-led rally on President Duterte's second State of the Nation's Address was completely different from that of last year's which was marked by optimism; this year it was a protest against Duterte's failed promises.


Philippine social movement meets Duterte’s curse-laden SONA with huge protest


After lashing out at groups belonging to the Philippine progressive social movement who were staging a rally during his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Duterte decided to face the crowd who came in tens of thousands to voice their demands for a genuine change and just and lasting peace.


But the mood of this year’s rally was different from that of last year’s which was marked by optimism as the then newly-elected Duterte reached out to the progressive social movement by promising, among others, the implementation of genuine agrarian reform, an end to environmentally destructive large-scale mining, a stop to labor contractualization, an earnest delivery of social services, especially for the poor, the revival of the stalled peace talks with revolutionary groups, and the release of political prisoners. This year, it was a protest against Duterte’s failed promises, the increasing human rights violations due to his war on drugs and counterinsurgency program, and the declaration of martial law in the southern island of Mindanao.* Similar protests were also held at various key cities in the country.


Curse-laden SONA

Duterte’s move was unprecedented since he was the first President to face a protesting crowd after delivering the SONA. But the people were not amused. Who would be when all they heard from Duterte’s speech was a torrent of bile and vitriol against his perceived enemies including the progressive social movement, his critics of his war on drugs, human rights defenders and even the organized urban poor communities.


When he asked the protesters to be patient and not to rush reassuring them that “I will deliver”, they responded with jeers. “It’s not the pace of the change but the direction of his programs and policies that we are questioning,” said the multisectoral group, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance).


The promising start of Mr. Duterte’s administration was “undermined” by several things — the government’s human rights record, the administration’s refusal to carry out an economic policy that would benefit mainly the poor and Mr. Duterte’s “failure to pursue an independent foreign policy.”*


Lumad's call to stop martial law
Among the crowd were students from Lumad (indigenous people in Mindanao) schools who traveled to Manila to join the protest and ask the president to stop the martial law in Mindanao. Lumad schools are schools built by the Lumad themselves through the help of religious institutions and non-government organizations. The Lumad and other indigenous peoples in the Philippines have long been suffering from government neglect in the delivery of basic social services such as education and health having learned to take matters into their own hands.


These students and their families were forced to evacuate due to the heavy presence of soldiers in their communities shortly after Duterte’s declaration of martial law. These are the same students who witnessed the brutal killings of the executive director of their school, ALCADEV (Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Development), and two Lumad leaders in 2015.


Threat to bomb Lumad schools

Speaking to reporters right after the incident with the protesters, Duterte threatened to bomb the schools built by the Lumad as he accused the teachers of teaching subversive ideas and the communities siding with the rebels.


Get out of there, I'm telling the Lumads now. I'll have those bombed, including your structures. I will use the armed forces, the Philippine air force. I'll really have those bombed ... because you are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against the government."


His threat was met with condemnations from many groups.


"He had a mouthful for the Lumad schools and communities in his press conference, that his forces should not hesitate to bomb these schools. Bullying Lumad kids and communities is one thing - his State forces get away with it every time - but bombing their schools and communities is a war crime, one of the gravest violations of international humanitarian law," Karapatan said in its statement.


Schools of indigenous peoples and community learning centers such as those for the Lumad in Mindanao are established and maintained by people's organizations and members of the local communities themselves due to the absence of public schools offering free education in their areas. They are also part of indigenous peoples' assertion of their right to self-determination. President Duterte should encourage and protect them instead of targeting them as "enemies of the state." said Alliance of Concerned Teachers.


It has been a practice of the AFP to tag Lumad schools that are critical against mining companies in Mindanao as ‘training ground’ of the communist rebels. But it’s even more alarming because President Duterte is echoing the same baseless accusation and maligning our Lumad schools. For sure, the president's statement will embolden attacks in Lumad communities by the elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and perpetrate further harassments, and indiscriminately bomb Lumad communities in Mindanao," children’s group Salinlahi said.


But the Lumad themselves have more seething words for the President:


Using the all too-common reasoning that we teach our students to be communists, a rationale that has been debunked too many times before and can even be more proven had your government spent more attention in getting our institution more exposure to the public to get the support we really need, you have explicitly threatened our lives as if we aren’t part of the nation you promised to serve, as if you haven’t made pro-Lumad pronouncements back in 2015.


If you can remember the dialogue we had last July 18, 2017, we asked you for help and protection but your only response was to vehemently insist that Alcadev only teaches our children subversion, communism and how to fight against the government. But we would beg to differ, Mr. President. Our school’s curriculum is an open book and we would very much appreciate it getting popularized. You can have a battalion of critics look over our educational framework.”



The progressive social movement has also criticized Duterte’s economic program called Dutertenomics as a continuation of the previous administration’s neoliberal policies such as privatization and deregulation which have only delivered exclusionary growth that benefits foreign nationals and big local businesses while the majority of the people are left to make a bare subsistence living.


Dutertenomics (Duterte's economic program) does not change that flawed economics. Quite the opposite, it is preoccupied with looking for what else can be done to make the economy more profitable for foreign capital and domestic big business. Decades of globalization have already drastically altered the Philippine economic policy landscape and led to further underdevelopment The administration is just building on these policies and has lined up the next wave of pro-business and anti-people neoliberal measures,” said Ibon Foundation.



sources and related stories: