Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo – Press statement – 26 March 2020
On March 25, towards the 10th day of the declaration of the island-wide militarized lockdown of Luzon due to COVID-19, the peasant advocates of Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA) distributed relief packs to urban poor communities in Quezon City and conducted creative protests both online and on-ground.
Alleviate the burden of the urban poor
In the relief operation called “Tulong Anakpawis,” SAKA spent the morning giving away food and hygiene packages containing soap, alcohol, bigas (uncooked rice), tuyo (dried fish), and saba (bananas) to 200 households in Daang Tubo, Pook Malinis, and UP Arboretum in Diliman. These urban poor communities were in the immediate vicinity of the farmland whose candidacy for land reform SAKA had been struggling alongside the local peasant community for. Accompanying them in the operation were members of peasant cultural group Sining na Naglilingkod sa Bayan (Sinagbayan) and the Quezon City chapter of Anakpawis who had also helped them in gathering and repacking contributions.
“Ang komunidad ninyo ay isang bulnerableng komunidad (Your community is a vulnerable community),” said Donna Miranda, one of SAKA’s conveners, in a discussion with the residents. “Siksikan ang ating mga bahay, hindi tayo nakakakain nang maayos—so kung meron dapat unahin ang pamalahaan na itest [para sa COVID-19], dapat tayo. (Our houses are crowded, we cannot eat properly—if there’s anyone the government should prioritize in testing for COVID-19, it should be us.”
Miranda also blasted politicians who had received VIP treatment in getting tested in spite of the fact that they had not been persons under investigation or PUIs to begin with.
“Di nga kami mamamatay sa COVID, mamamatay naman kami sa gutom (We may not die of COVID, but we may die of hunger),” interrupted one of the residents. SAKA learned that many of them were yet to receive any relief packs from local government units. According to them, the lockdown had made it impossible for most of them to make a living while they were trapped in their communities.
Creative protests observe social distancing
Towards lunchtime, other members of the organization began heeding Bagong Alyansang Makabayan’s call for protests. Billed “Kalampagin ang Gobyerno!” BAYAN’s campaign was to pressure the government through online photos and videos to conduct free, large-scale, and systemic COVID-19 testing to treat and isolate patients, as well as to provide financial and material aid to communities suffering the socio-economic impact of the lockdown. SAKA, however, conducted even on-ground protests while faithfully observing the state directive to maintain social distancing.
Foremost among their protests was wearing sandwich boards bearing the message “FREE MASS TESTING NOW!” and “Ayuda sa magsasaka, manggagawa, at maralita! (Aid for farmers, workers, and the poor!)” These were worn as they bought supplies at a public market, purchased medicine at a pharmacy, and even while riding bicycles, scooters, and skateboards. Others hung posters and banners making the same demands, one as long as truck trailer. A3 stickers on public surfaces and electric posts went as far as declaring that “a mass lockdown without mass testing is just mass imprisonment.” Allies from other sectors joined in by writing the same demands on their bayong (woven bags for shopping) while in line to the grocery.
“Social distancing shouldn’t mean distancing ourselves from social issues,” explained Angelo Suarez, another of SAKA’s conveners. “The Duterte regime still refuses to provide a healthcare solution to this primarily health-related crisis. And if it weren’t for anti-people policies that cut budgets for social services, privatized public utilities and infrastructure, and thwarted national industrialization, we would not be so unprepared for a pandemic of this scale.”
Suarez swore there would be more protests like this in the coming days, and encouraged the public to conduct their own do-it-yourself mobilizations while observing social distancing. SAKA is also slated to carry on with their distribution of relief packs in more communities within the week. They continue to accept contributions of soap, alcohol, bigas, tuyo, and saba, as well as cash donations.
For reference: Donna Miranda – SAKA co-convener – 0926 6635606 / Angelo Suarez – SAKA co-convener – 0956 4085632