Saturday, August 2, 2014

Protest colors & sentimental chords in Pres. Aquino’s Fifth SONA

Note: This photo-essay appeared in a slightly different version in the 01-07 August 2014 issue of FilAm Star, the weekly 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America', where this author/blogger is the special news/photo correspondent based in Manila.

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III was under a dark cloud most of July formed by adverse public reaction following his explanation on Nora Aunor ‘s exclusion from the list of National Artists and his national address on the Supreme Court ruling regarding the DAP, his rejection of Budget Secretary Butch Abad’s courtesy resignation, and then his poor approval ratings that Pulse Asia released on the 14th and 25th of the month.

The president even made a call for a show of public support by wearing the iconic yellow ribbon but this was immediately downplayed by his Malacañang staff.   This brought out the idea of peach as protest color among the impeach Aquino supporters. Three impeachment cases had since been filed.

On SONA day, 28 July 2014, the Philippine Daily Inquirer bannered that ‘P-Noy [was] graded so-so 6.1’ by the Movement for Good Governance (MGG), a coalition of non-government organizations (NGOs) chaired by UP Professor Solita Collas-Monsod, popularly known as TV talk show host Mareng Winnie.

In the scale of 1 to 10, the mediocre grade suggests that “something has been accomplished” during the current year of the Aquino administration “but [it] is lower than expected.”  It’s below the 7.5 passing mark. 

We were not then surprised that Aquino changed the tone of his fifth State of the Nation Address: an accomplishment report without the usual fireworks of the previous SONAs. Conciliatory was how observers described this latest one.

 There was no blame game on his predecessor, no mention whatsoever about Bong, Jinggoy and Johnny (they’re in jail), no swipes at the Supreme Court (Malacañang has appealed for reconsideration), although there was a gentle poke at his critics, whose “attacks ... are becoming more frequent, more venomous, and more intense.”  He said though that he has “grown used to being greeted by negative commentators for breakfast, personal attacks for lunch, insults for dinner, and intrigue for a midnight snack.”   

The accomplishment report was full of numerical data and was enhanced by testimonials from a TESDA beneficiary, policewomen, an informal settler and a student. On the side, he gave credit to Cabinet or non-Cabinet officials and even civilians who aced their performance targets.

According to reports, jailed senators Bong Revilla and Jnggoy Estrada praised the SONA as “most decent since 2010” although they noted that Aquino failed to touch on important issues. 

An overseas Filipino worker expressed in the social media a similar sentiment.  There was no cameo role of the OFW in the SONA. He was dismayed that their sector did not merit any recognition for contributing to the nation’s economic growth. 

Aquino described a looming energy crisis.  Energy watchers though expected to hear concrete indicatives of a power development plan but there was none. 

The SONA was silent on the proposed Freedom of Information law. There were also no sound bytes on foreign policy issues: the territorial dispute with China and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreemen (EDCA), although Aquino was loud and clear on the modernization of the armed forces.

Emotion was high towards the conclusion of his SONA. Aquino was on the verge of tears when he talked about the legacy left by his parents.  Many among the well-dressed audience with yellow ribbons likely reached for dainty hankies to dab their eyes too and later rose to give him a standing ovation and affirmation that “we will continue proving that “the Filipino is worth dying for,” “the Filipino is worth living fo r,” and ... “The Filipino is worth fighting for.”

There was another congressional session on Commonwealth Avenue.  Several SONAs were delivered by representatives of protest groups from various sectors like labor and agriculture, health, education, government/non-government workers, the religious community and informal settlers. 

Present too were the seven party-list lawmakers before they proceeded to Congress in peach barongs for the men and peach gowns for the women.  Shortly before Aquino started his SONA, they walked out of the session hall: Bayan Muna’s  Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate, Gabriela ‘s Luzviminda Ilagan and  Emmi de Jesus, Kabataan’s Terry Ridon,  ACT Teachers’  Antonio Tinio, and Anakpawis’ Fernando Hicap.

Mae Paner, popularly known as Juana Change, wore an elegant brown Filipiniana gown at parliament on Commonwealth Aven ue.  After her own SONA, she also proceeded to Congress where she changed into a peach gown but she did not walk out. She said she was an ardent Aquino supporter.  Since they were together during the election campaign in 2010, she warned him in colorful Tagalog that she would mash his balls if he fails to fulfil his election promises.  She quipped that his ‘daan matuwid’ (straight path) has come to a ‘bangin’ (deep ravine).

The protest rally was as usual colorful with caricatures, effigies and streamers. The theme harped on the DAP and the impeachment move.

It was an orderly assembly, groups stayed on their designated areas hence there was no dense crowd in front of the stage.  The sound system was properly deployed so that the speeches could be heard clearly up to the farthest end of the assembly.

The protest parliament was on the right side of Commonwealth Avenue between Ever department store and the St. Peter’s Church.  While the pedestrian lane was open, the island and the area several meters before the church were sealed with barbed wires, concrete traffic control barriers, container vans, and phalanxes of the police force ready with shields and truncheons.

Probably as Aquino was halfway through his Fifth SONA, his effigy as Pork Barrel King was rolled to the center in front of the stage for the burning.  This was the finale of the protest rally: protesters cheering on and banners flying around as fires consumed the effigy.

This photo from Mon Ramirez.

It didn’t end there right away. Protesters marched toward the barricades and tried to topple the concrete barriers. If there were tears inside the session hall, there was red-tainted water from firemen’s cannon hoses to douse the protesters.  It was a peaceful but wet ending. 

Countdown to the Sixth and last Aquino SONA has began.

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