MANILA, Philippines?A Central Luzon-wide transport strike, effigy-burning and protest rallies in key urban centers outside Metro Manila erupted Monday, even before President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could deliver her State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Congress.
Jeepney, bus and even tricycle drivers stopped plying their routes in Bulacan, Pampanga, Zambales, Nueva Ecija and Bataan to demand the scrapping of the value-added tax (VAT) on oil products and the Oil Deregulation Law, Rolando Catanghal, spokesperson of Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator sa Pilipinas (STOP), said.
In Pampanga, policemen dispersed a picket line of tricycle drivers in Guagua town and arrested STOP provincial leader Rolando Cruz at 7 a.m. Cruz was released less than an hour without charges, Catanghal said.
In Bataan, two transport leaders in Orani town, who were trying to convince fellow drivers to join the strike, were held by policemen, he said.
The strike, which began at 1 a.m., coincided with rallies and vigils launched by Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya, according to Aurora Broquil, KPD regional spokesperson.
In Angeles City, some 500 leaders and members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in Central Luzon assembled for a poverty and hunger forum at the city library. In Tarlac City, some 200 students belonging to Liga ng mga Mag-aaral sa Tarlac gathered at 1 p.m. for a protest against Ms Arroyo?s SONA.
Both the police and the military in Central Luzon went on full alert for the SONA.
Protest amid rain
In Baguio City, about 200 activists and students staged a rally despite strong rains so they could remind the people that the President had purportedly failed to deliver on her promise to improve their lives.
The group, led by Tongtongan ti Umili, urged residents to avoid tuning in to Ms Arroyo?s televised SONA because the public not need hear her ?lies.?
But Bayan Muna vice chair Manuel Loste said he would watch the SONA. ?Her SONA is about the positive points [of her administration] but this is a complete contrast to the crisis we are all experiencing,? he said.
In Laguna, activists gathered in Calamba City for their own ?State of the Youth? address.
Led by Anakbayan-Timog Katagalugan (Anakbayan-TK), they burned an effigy of Ms Arroyo, which depicted her as Pinocchio with Uncle Sam as puppet master. They carried large placards bearing the President?s face and the word ?OUST!?
?The grumbling stomachs of the 14.1 million hungry Filipinos and the abject poverty in the cities and countryside aptly depict the true state of the nation than Ms Arroyo?s SONA in the newly renovated and lavish Congress,? said PJ Santos, Anakbayan-TK secretary general.
Santos said his group had already gathered hundreds of signatures calling for the scrapping of the 12-percent VAT on oil and other commodities during an 18-day ?cultural caravan.?
In Quezon, nearly 100 people paraded a snake effigy in the main streets of Lucena City. According to Dennis Agudo, spokesperson of Anakbayan-Quezon, the snake symbolized the Arroyo administration?s ?terror? campaign in the province due to stepped-up military operations against communist rebels.
Arman Abarillo, secretary general of the regional chapter of Bayan, said in a phone interview that the rally in Batangas City also featured an effigy of Ms Arroyo resembling a long-nosed Pinocchio.
Rallies were also held in Antipolo City, and Teresa and Cainta towns in Rizal, in Bacoor, Cavite, and in Pagsanjan and Sta. Cruz towns in Laguna.
In Albay, the protesters denounced the privatization of the power sector and massive land conversion.
Tessa Lopez, Bayan regional spokesperson, said her group opposed the takeover by National Power Corp. of the Albay Electric Cooperative and the proposed multimillion-peso Southern Luzon International Airport in Daraga town. The airport project, she said, would destroy 181 hectares of rice fields.
At least 2,000 people joined the rallies in Sorsogon, Camarines Sur and Albay, Lopez said. She added that noise barrages were held in Catanduanes and Camarines Norte.
On Tuesday, some 10,000 drivers of jeepneys, buses, vans and tricycles will hold a two-day strike starting 1 a.m.
At least 5,000 people will also start a two-day ?fish strike? in Masbate, Sorsogon, Albay and Catanduanes, according to Gerry Albert Corpuz, spokesperson of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya).
Corpuz said fishing operations would be suspended while fluvial parades and other community-based protests will be held to show the fishing sector?s opposition to oil price increases.
In Iloilo City, around 2,000 farmers and slum dwellers led by Bayan marched to the provincial capitol, carrying placards and streamers describing their plight. They said the government had failed to address the needs of people left homeless by Typhoon ?Frank.?
?We have been poor since we were born. But we haven?t been this poor like today,? said Estelita Ducio, a vendor from La Paz District. Ducio said the soaring prices of rice, fuel and basic commodities had made it harder for her family to eat three times a day.
In Capiz, Bayan led 1,000 people to a rally at the Roxas City grandstand. In Aklan, some 500 protesters led by Bayan and Kadamay marched from the ABL Sports Complex to the public plaza in the capital town of Kalibo.
In Negros Occidental, about 2,000 street marchers ended up at the public plaza in Bacolod City. The rally carried the theme ?hunger, oppression, militarization, corruption must end, Gloria Arroyo must leave.?
The crowd shouted anti-Arroyo slogans and burned an octopus-like figure resembling Ms Arroyo wearing an Uncle Sam hat. The tentacles of the octopus represented her programs that were sucking the blood of the suffering people, Bayan-Negros chair Junhil Enriquez said.
In Cebu City, Bayan said about 300 people marched to the Malacañang sa Sugbo, while Sanlakas said 200 of its members held its own march at the presidential residence.
Bayan-Cebu chair Jaime Paglinawan said Ms Arroyo failed to fulfill her promise in the previous SONA of food on every table. More and more people have suffered from hunger because of the escalating prices of rice while the minimum wage of the workers remain low, he said.
Workers from Compostela Valley affiliated with the militant labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno staged a rally, while the peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and the ?lumad? Pasaka held their own protests at the Freedom and Rizal Park in Davao City.
A mock concert, dubbed ?SONA 2008: Karnabal sa mga Bakak ni Gloria? (Carnival of Gloria?s Lies), was scheduled at 9 p.m.
Pasaka called for a stop of the militarization in lumad (indigenous people?s) areas and decried the continued destruction of ancestral lands.
Kerlan Fanagel, Pasaka secretary general, accused Ms Arroyo of ?crushing out our national patrimony by openly selling our ancestral lands to foreign investors.? He said the government?s policy had favored large-scale mining, big plantations and the setting up of dams that displace ?lumad? communities.
In General Santos City, about 500 people held a rally at the public market. Edward Flores, Bayan spokesperson for the South Cotabato-Sarangani-General Santos area, said a similar activity was held in Koronadal City in South Cotabato.
In Zamboanga City, members of the women?s group Gabriela complained of harassment when City Hall workers tried to disperse their rally at Western Mindanao University.
Small rallies were also reported in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Butuan. Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon; Vincent Cabreza and Desiree Caluza, Inquirer Northern Luzon; Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Niña Catherine Calleja, Ephraim Aguilar and Publio Peyra III, Inquirer Southern Luzon; Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Carla P. Gomez and Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas; Germelina Lacorte, Aquiles Z. Zonio, Julie S. Alipala and Franklin Caliguid, Inquirer Mindanao