July 22, 2019 afternoon. I just came from the People’s SONA. While the President of the Philippines was giving the State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Congress in front of the congressmen and women, the senators, the diplomatic corps, the cabinet officials and the who’s who of business and government, thousands of people marched in the streets of Commonwealth Avenue for the People’s SONA.
There are big contrasts in the two events. The SONA in congress is attended by a chosen few hundreds of the elite of Philippine society. It is by invitation only. The People’s SONA is attended by thousands, even up to 50,000 of ordinary people – farmers, urban workers, students, artists, religious people, NGOs and what-not. It is open to all. The President’s SONA event is guarded by many police and security officers so that the ordinary people may be kept away from them, while the People’s SONA is also guarded by many policemen and women to keep them away from congress.
The SONA in congress is in an airconditioned environment with people specially dressed in fancy tailor-made clothes for the occasion, while in the People’s SONA the thousands have been drenched by the heavy downpour all marching and standing on the street for several hours dressed in ordinary t-shirts. The attendants in the President’s SONA clap on cue at the “achievements” of the administration and laugh at the boasts of the President while in the SONA in the streets people sing, shout, clap and chant patriotic songs as they listen to speaker after speaker giving voice to the laments, dreams, anger and demands of the COMMON TAO. What contrasts!
Among the many slogans sang by the people, one continued ringing in my ear: TAMA NA! SOBRA NA! NO TO CHARTER CHANGE! No to charter change had been a rallying point in last year’s People’s SONA and it still is this year. In fact, Charter Change is in a greater danger to happen to us now than it was last year because the President’s people now have a big majority in both houses after the May 13 elections. Besides, the face and the reason of Charter Change is also clearer now than before. It is not really so much about Federalism but about extension of terms of sitting politicians and the complete and full opening of Philippine economy and natural resources to foreigners.
It is a sell out of the Philippines to the moneyed foreigners. All the rhetoric that it will bring more investments and give more work for Filipinos is just a cover up to the plunder of the Philippines. So chants such as ATIN ANG PILIPINAS also resound in the People’s SONA program. The big danger to us now is that the majority of the congress people and the senators are more beholden to Duterte than to the good of the Filipinos.
The People’s SONA may not be heard by those in power in congress and in Malacanang, but it is a worthwhile exercise. It is a venue in which people of all colors can express themselves. For many it is an opportunity to express their love of country. It is also a way to educate the thousands of participants, and the country in general through the media, about the issues in the country that the people are concerned about. Even if just for these, it was worth marching in the streets, standing for hours, being drenched by the rain, and driving ourselves hoarse to denounce injustice and express our love of country.