Cops, soldiers turn SONA protest venue into sing-along stage with live band
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—Policemen and soldiers took over the usual site of protest rallies here on Monday (July 27), preventing activists and critics of President Rodrigo Duterte from assembling and airing what, to them, is an alternative view of the state of the nation.
In Western Mindanao, activists from the provinces of Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Norte and Misamis Occidental, converged in online platforms to express their sentiments on various issues hours prior to Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA).
At 8 a.m., policemen and soldiers had already set up the sound system for a live band performance at Kiosko Kagawasan (Kiosk for Freedom) in Divisoria District, leaving would-be protesters to look for other venues.
The kiosk is the usual assembly area for progressive groups to hold protest actions.
As of 11 a.m., instead of chants from protesters, ballads blared through the sound system as police and soldiers took turns singing with a live band hours before the President’s SONA.
The concert went on until the afternoon, amid heavy rain.
At 3 p.m., a small group of activists from Akbayan Youth, Balaod Mindanaw, Lilak, Idefend and Amnesty International braved the rains and set up a silent protest on the sidewalks of Divisoria.
They brought out placards, some of which read “Activism is not terrorism,” “Ayuda hindi selda,” and “Kill the veerus (virus) not our rights.”
In Zamboanga Sibugay, groups held what they described as online State of Mindanaoan Address (SOMA) through the app Zoom to protect themselves against possible COVID-19 infection.
Groups representing the children, women, youth, religious and farming sectors, lambasted what they said was the Duterte administration’s preference for foreign investors at the expense of local folk’s interest amid the pandemic.
Lucita Gonzales, coordinator of the Freedom from Debt Coalition Western Mindanao, said the Duterte administration failed to address the plight of Filipino people with its limited aid to the poor and by passing the Anti Terrorism Act amid widespread joblessness.
“The pandemic is not a joke, account for all the multibillion funds poured to address the pandemic, where are the funds, why is the aid to the poor limited?” she said.
Fr. Ramil Curong, of the Philippine Misereor Partnership Incorporated, said the Anti-Terror Act would be exploited by people in power to silence those who are critical of the government.
“Instead of addressing the rise of COVID-19 cases and feeding the hungry, or giving job opportunities to those who lost their jobs, all we get is a bill that curtails our rights to speak and to express,” he said. “Because of it, people are afraid to speak up.”
Rio Cambongga, speaker for the Youth for Climate Justice in Ozamis City, said students had been forced to stay home under the “new normal.”
“But in remote areas, we don’t have electricity, we don’t have internet, our parents are very poor, even if they work hard 24 hours, what they earn is not enough for food, so how could we buy android and load for our home school?” Cambongga said.
He said the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Duterte administration should give priority to and invest in the poorest and remotest villages of the country.
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