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PNP charm offensive on Sona protesters fails

By , Jaymee T. Gamil and Inquirer Bureaus

UNEXPECTED SOURCE OF COMFORT A protester tries to console a riot policeman who broke down in tears after a clash with militant groups along Commonwealth Avenue hours before President Aquino’s Sona. MIKE ALQUINTO/NPPA IMAGES

A police plan to charm and disarm protesters with flowers and music failed to work when thousands of protesters, boosted by foreign human rights campaigners, broke through the security lines in an attempt to get near the House of Representatives as President Aquino addressed a joint session of Congress on Monday.

Scores of people, including several police officers, were hurt in the ensuing clash between the protesters and riot police on Commonwealth Avenue at about 1 p.m.

Metropolitan police had planned to welcome the protesters from several left-leaning groups led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) with flowers, white balloons, doves and music from a marching band.

But instead of stopping to accept the peace offering, the protesters stomped through the line of smiling rookie policewomen holding the gifts, leaving even police directors speechless.

Some protesters took flowers but threw them in the air, accepted balloons but set them loose. Their shouting and screeching scared the doves, which flew away—in time to escape the ensuing skirmish in front of Ever Gotesco Mall.

There the protesters charged the police barricade, kicked down metal fences, and surged into the other side of the road in an attempt to proceed to the legislative complex.

Several layers deep

But a line of riot police several layers deep blocked their path, and a scuffle between the law enforcers and the protesters ensued.

Failing to break down the police line, the protesters pelted the law enforcers with eggs, rocks and bottles, injuring some of the cops but only getting even for the bloodied noses in their ranks.

The confrontation lasted an hour, ending with the protesters being pushed back to the north lane of the road.

According to Senior Supt. Joel Pagdilao, deputy director for administration of the Quezon City police, 21 police officers were injured in the clashes, most of them getting cuts, bruises and lacerations.

Two bystanders, Rowena Biloan and Ronel Madrigal, were hurt when they were hit by flying objects.

Chief Supt. Richard Albano, Quezon City police director, said nine protesters were taken into custody, three of them injured in the clashes.

Albano said police would bring charges against the protesters for destruction of government property, physical injury, direct assault and illegal assembly.

Foreign protesters

It is not clear what action the authorities will take against about 100 foreigners from 27 countries who joined the Bayan-led protest.

Bureau of Immigration personnel reportedly joined the police in monitoring foreigners who took part in the protest.

The foreigners were members of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), established during the weekend after a three-day conference in Manila, according to the group’s secretary general, Peter Murphy.

Under Philippine immigration laws, foreigners are prohibited from taking part in protests against the government, as such actions amount to interference in Philippine affairs.

Violators of the prohibition face deportation and blacklisting as undesirable aliens.

The ICHRP joined Monday’s protest to demand that the Aquino administration stop extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances involving human rights campaigners.

Murphy said he expected President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) to tout “wonderful progress being made in the Philippines.”

“But the terrible truth is that it’s not. It’s a terrible situation for the people. So many millions of people even have to leave the Philippines to get jobs, which is against their human rights,” Murphy said.

Police estimated the number of Monday’s protesters at 4,650, way below the 18,000 the Philippine National Police had expected.

“Maybe it’s because informal settlers and their families did not join the rallies,” said Senior Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac, PNP spokesman.

Banquet menu

At the head of Monday’s march was a 4-meter-tall effigy of President Aquino at a dining table with images of the USS Guardian (a US minesweeper that ran aground at Tubbataha Reefs in January), a “privatized” hospital and a water tank.

“The effigy depicts the so-called economic growth being enjoyed by only a few of the ruling elite,” said Renato Reyes, secretary general of Bayan.

“The menu of the Sona banquet will include lots of pork (barrel), hefty servings of PPP (public-private partnership projects), and expensive water from private companies,” Reyes said.

Reyes said Aquino’s three-year-old administration failed to bring about meaningful changes.

“The last three years have seen the widening gap between the rich and the poor, rising unemployment and poverty and the escalation of prices,” Reyes said.

The protesters burned Aquino’s effigy in the middle of the road as the President arrived at the House of Representatives.

Sindac said 9,000 policemen and augmentation units from other governmental agencies were fielded in 11 deployment areas outside the legislative complex.

Aside from the confrontation on Commonwealth Avenue, Monday’s rallies protesting against President Aquino’s assessment of the state of the nation were generally peaceful, Sindac said.

He said the Bayan-led protesters began to leave Commonwealth Avenue even before President Aquino could start to deliver his speech,

Iloilo, Capiz

In the provinces, rallies in Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Capiz and Aklan were attended by at least 5,600 members of militant groups who did not agree with Aquino on the state of the nation.

At least 3,000 protesters led by Bayan marched in Iloilo City then converged on a spot in front of the provincial capitol for a rally.

Speakers took turns decrying the worsening poverty, rising cost of basic commodities and services, unemployment and low wages.

“The rosy pronouncements of economic growth sharply contrast with the situation of workers, farmers, fixed-income earners, government employees and the urban poor whose conditions have worsened after three years under the Aquino administration,” said Hope Hervilla, Bayan chair on Panay Island.

At least 500 protesters, mostly farmers led by Bayan and Kahublagan sang Mangunguma sa Capiz and informal settlers, marched to the Roxas City bandstand in Capiz and staged a rally against Aquino’s Sona.

In the capital town of Kalibo in Aklan, small coconut farmers under Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM) trooped to the Aklan Trade Hall Center on the capitol grounds and asked the provincial government to support House Bill No. 1327, which would mandate the use of the sequestered coconut levy fund for the benefit of small coconut farmers.

Negros, Cebu City

Despite the rain, at least 100 Bayan members marched in downtown Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, carrying a model of a tank with President Aquino riding on it and holding handcuffs and a warrant of arrest

Christian Tuayon, Bayan secretary general in Negros, said the effigy represented his group’s opposition to the government’s filing of “trumped-up charges” against activists and critics of the government.

Tuayon said 24 activists and critics of the government were facing trumped-up charges in Negros.

In Cebu City, at least 200 Bayan members, who converged in front of Gaisano Metro, criticized the Aquino administration for failing to make  the poor benefit from the economic growth, which they said only benefited the big businessmen and families who helped the administration win May’s midterm elections.

About 100 meters away, some 300 members of Nagkaisa, a federation of labor groups in Cebu, held their own mass action.

In Davao City, at least 2,500 protesters led by Bayan marched around the city as part of the nationwide protest against President Aquino’s Sona.—With reports from Marlon Ramos in Manila; Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Carla P. Gomez and Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas; Karlos Manlupig, Germelina Lacorte, Aquiles Z. Zonio, Ryan D. Rosauro and Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao

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Tags: Benigno Aquino III , charm offensive , Philippine National Police (PNP) , Philippines , Police , Protests , rallies , SONA 2013 , State of the Nation Address

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