#SONAgkaisa: Despite pandemic, Filipinos protest ‘worsened’ hardships in Duterte’s 4th year

Masked but not silenced.

This was how various groups presented themselves as they banded together on Monday morning, July 27, for the People’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) to air the struggles they had to face under President Rodrigo Duterte’s 4th year in office.

Members of over 60 youth organizations and multi-sectoral organizations flocked to University Avenue at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman to express their dissent to the government’s pandemic response, the passage of the anti-terrorism law, and the shutdown of ABS-CBN, among others. It was held on the same day that Duterte delivered his SONA.

From fisherfolk groups and labor workers to health and women’s rights advocates, many staged their own rallies prior to marching to University Avenue for the united protest action dubbed as #SONAgkaisa. 

SONA 2020 Protest

STANDING TOGETHER, APART. Thousands of protesters from various groups troop to the University of the Philppines in Quezon City for SONagKAISA to protest ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte's State of the Nation Address on July 27, 2020.

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

SONA 2020 Protest

FISTS IN THE AIR. Members of the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa Progresibong Manggagawa movement stand against various issues at UP Diliman on July 27, 2020, for 'SONagKAISA.'

Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

SONA 2020 protest

Various protest groups march towards UP Diliman to join the #SONAgkaisa protest hours before President Rodrigo Duterte’s #SONA2020 on July 27, 2020.

Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Many echoed the worsening struggles that people faced during Duterte’s 4th year in office, which were further exacerbated by the administration’s lacking response to the pandemic.

Araw-araw na nilulubog tayo ng administrasyon sa kumunoy ng utang sa gitna ng krisis na pinalala ng COVID-19.... Itong sistema ay iniluluwal ng tiranikong administrasyon ni Duterte. Ang patuloy na pag-iral nito ang nagpapanatili sa 'ting ekonomiyang atrasado habang naghihikahos ang mga mamamayan, na lalo lamang pinalalala ng pandemya bunsod ng COVID-19,” said Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate.

(Every day, this administration sinks us into the quicksand of debt, in the middle of a crisis worsened by COVID-19.... This system is being brought forth by the tyrannical administration of Duterte. While it prevails, our economy continues to be left behind while the people suffer, further worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Among those taking the brunt of the government’s decisions in light of the pandemic are students who will undergo the blended learning approach to continue education. This is despite their calls for an academic freeze until the pandemic is quelled.

Raymond Basilio, Alliance of Concerned Teachers Philippines secretary general, said the government has placed the burden of online and blended learning on the shoulders Filipino families. He also pointed out that the country’s educational system may not prepared yet for such a big shift.

SONA 2020 protest

Various protest groups march towards UP Diliman to join the #SONAgkaisa protest hours before President Rodrigo Duterte’s #SONA2020 on July 27, 2020.

Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Raoul Manuel of the National Union of Students of the Philippines said that students have struggled to access education even before the pandemic, leading even walkouts to protest impending increase in tuition and miscellaneous fees. Some of them have even been red-tgged just because they are activists, he added. (READ: #AyokongMagMahal: Students lead walkout to oppose tuition increase)

Bago pa man ang pandemya, marami nang mga kabataan ang biktima ng mahal na edukasyon at ang binansagang terorista sa pangangarap na makamit ang mapagpalayang edukasyon,” he said.

(Even before the pandemic, many of the youth have become victims of expensive education and were tagged as terrorists just because of the dream of getting free education.)

SONA 2020 protest

QUALITY EDUCATION. Groups call for 'safe and quality education' during the #SONAgkaisa protest.

Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Basilio called on the government to hear the pleas of students and teachers and prioritize their well-being.

A warning

Aside from struggles with the education sector, the Movement Against Tyranny lamented how the government has pushed policies that only incited “fear” among Filipinos, such as the war against drugs, the signing of the anti-terror bill, and ABS-CBN shutdown.

During the protest, veteran brodcast journalist Ces Drilon noted that the ABS-CBN shutdown should serve as a reminder that they have to speak out against the Duterte administration's attacks on press freedom now.

Babala ang ginawa sa amin sa ABS-CBN sa maaring hantungan ng paguulat sa bansa. Mayroon pa kayang maguulat ng totoong nangyayari? Malamang ay natatakot na rin silang mapasara. Mensahe po ang nangyari sa amin, na magulat kayo at baka kayo na ang sumunod,” said Drilon, who was among the first to be let go at ABS-CBN.

(What happened to us was a warning. Will there still be truthful reporting of events? It’s likely that they’ll be scared to do that as well. What happened to us was a message: ‘You report on us, and you may be next.’)

SONA 2020 Protest

CONCERNS. Protesters hold up protest banners at the #SONAgKAIA in UP Diliman.

Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Protesters at the People’s SONA urged the government to realign its priorities in solving the pandemic, rather than focusing on other matters like the shutdown of ABS-CBN.

Dahil sa makupad na pagkilos ng gobyerno, hindi natin nasusugpo ang pagkalat ng COVID-19, hindi natin ito natutugunan at maghihirap lalo ang mamamayan,” said Senator Kiko Pangilinan.

(Because of the slow response of the government, we can’t address the spread of COVID-19. The people will only suffer more.)

Some protesterts also slammed moves to amend the 1987 Constitution.

Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno of the Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties asserted that charter change (Cha-Cha) is not the answer to the problems faced by the people during the pandemic.

Hindi Cha-cha ang dapat ipasa ng gobyerno. Hindi yan ang isinasayaw ng mamamayan. Ang ating isinasayaw ay katotohanan, at katarungan. Ang ating isinisigaw ay hustisya,” he said.

(It’s not cha-cha that the government should pass. It’s not what people are clamoring for. What we are calling for is truth and justice.)

Former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares urged those participating in the protest to continue to express their dissent, despite the many challenges that may come their way.

“Pinakita natin ngayong araw na ang tunay na dahilan bakit ayaw nilang matuloy ang rally na ito ay dahil intolerant lang sila sa dissent (We showed today that the true reason they don’t want this rally to push through is because they are intolerant of dissent)," said Colmenares.

Diokno added, "Pagdating ng araw ng pananagutan, nandito tayong lahat (When the time of reckoning came, we are all here)."

Instead of the usual whole-day protest, this year's People's SONA finished in just around two hours to observe health protocols. Participants were also asked to wear face masks, bring disinfectants, or stay at home if they were immunocompromised. – with reports from Philippine Collegian, The Catalyst, and UPLB Perspective/Rappler.com