Foreign human rights activists join SONA protests
MANILA, Philippines–The State of the Nation (SONA) protests have gone international.
The hundred-strong International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), composed of foreigners from 27 countries, joined leftist coalition Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in their street march and protest against President Aquino’s fourth State of the Nation Address on Monday.
Amid hundreds of protesters from different sectors, the human rights group was a quiet standout with their multiracial contingent and placards in foreign languages.
Their message, however, was summed up in a banner they bore as they marched along Commonwealth Avenue toward the Batasang Pambansa Complex in Quezon City: “Fight US-Aquino’s Dirty War Against the Filipino people!”
The ICHRP, when it embarked on the march, was only a day old; on its very first campaign after a three-day human rights conference which saw 267 multisector participants from 27 countries, said ICHRP and Philippines Australia Union Links secretary general Peter Murphy.
“For many years, people around the world have been aghast at the human rights abuses in the Philippines, and the Aquino government has made no difference. This is an expression of the international community deciding to confront…this regime. It must stop,” Murphy said, during a standstill in the protest-march in front of the Ever Gotesco mall along Commonwealth around noontime Monday.
A heavily-defended police barricade–with a fence of barbed wire in front and a line of container vans behind—prevented the protesters from marching on toward the Batasan road.
Chief of the ICHRP’s demands was to stop the government counterinsurgency program “Oplan Bayanihan,” which local human rights groups such as Karapatan claimed perpetuate extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
Murphy said that he expected Mr Aquino’s speech 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 a job, which is against their human rights,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s dismal assessment only echoed that of the Bayan member groups present at the protest march, such as women’s advocy group Gabriela, labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno, youth group Anakbayan, among many others.
The protesters, numbering in the hundreds, pushed out from Commonwealth near the corner of Luzon Avenue at around 10:30 a.m. to march toward Batasan Road, despite previously being denied rally permits on the thoroughfares.
At the head of the march was a 13-foot effigy of Mr Aquino at a dining table laden with the USS Guardian, a “privatized” hospital, a water tank.
“The effigy depicts the so-called economic growth being enjoyed by only a few ruling elite. The menu of the SONA ‘banquet’ will include lotsa pork [barrel], hefty servings of PPP (public-private partnerships) and expensive water from private companies,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes explained earlier, in a text message to the media.
Reyes lamented Aquino’s three-year administration as lacking “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.
As of noon, the protest remains on a standstill in front of the Ever Gotesco mall, and have occupied at least half of the opposite lane of Commonwealth.
Earlier, the protesters dragged away fences with barbed wire separating the opposite lanes, and have pushed through a first barricade of policewomen bearing flower bouquets and white balloons.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.