July 29, 2005

The people's SONA

The feeling was nothing short of exhilarating as wave upon wave of protestors marched towards the House of Representatives closing off traffic on one side of Commonwealth Avenue, a twelve-lane major thoroughfare in Quezon City, in order to hold the people’s version of the real state-of-the-nation last July 25.

The head of the march could not see the tail end over the sea of people and the giant streamers calling for the resignation or ouster of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Organizers estimated the crowd at its peak to be 80,000 while media gave more modest estimates of 50,000-60,000. It was undoubtedly the biggest anti-GMA rally yet and the biggest protest demonstration on the occasion of a president’s State-of-the-Nation-Address or SONA, at least in the post-Marcos era.

Urban poor residents in communities just off Commonwealth Avenue cheered the marchers on as the latter called out “Pahirap sa masa, patalsikin si Gloria!” (Oust the Gloria regime, an intolerable burden on the people!) Many decided to join and stayed at the rally to listen to the fiery speeches and the enlightening yet intensely moving cultural numbers.

The utterly baseless conclusion by political commentators that the anti-GMA forces would never be able to muster more than 5,000 demonstrators at any one time has now been completely demolished. Major anti-GMA mass actions for which organizers have had relatively enough time to prepare have been getting progressively bigger and livelier.

The fact of the growing size of the demonstrations is undeniable thus detractors have taken another tack. A purported leader of the much, much smaller pro-GMA counter rally at the SONA was quoted by media as saying that “this is not a numbers game” and that what was important was their show of loyalty and support to the President.

Pseudo-political analysts for their part, display their ignorance and/or bias and disregard the fact that the previous people’s uprisings, EDSA 1 and 2, developed over some amount of time. Thus it is pointless to compare the size of the current early build-up in the size of anti-GMA rallies with that of the peak periods in the previous people power exercises that drew hundreds of thousands, if not more than a million people into the streets to topple the ruling regime. Their purpose -- to throw cold water on the political heat being generated against the Arroyo government – is thus fully exposed.

The success of the SONA mass protests was not only measurable in terms of the huge numbers mobilized. Several major alliances -- the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), the Gloria Step Down Movement (GSM), the various groups and personalities identified with former President Joseph Estrada and former presidential candidate, Fernando Poe Jr (FPJ), as well as members of the political opposition -- worked tirelessly to bridge their differences so that a broader unified front of forces committed to making Mrs. Arroyo step down from office could be forged.

It has not been easy. Aside from the fact that there are wide disparities between these forces in political viewpoint and practice, for the Left there are outstanding issues; for example, with regard to the sins of the Estrada regime on the progressive movement and the people as a whole, not to mention the unclosed chapter of the Marcos dictatorship that Representative Imee Marcos brings to the fore every time she conspicuously attends anti-GMA rallies.

But this is akin to the queasy feeling the national democrats (“natdem”) have had relating as tactical allies with former Marcos defense secretary then Senator Juan Ponce Enrile during the anti-US bases campaign as well as “Mr. Trapo” or traditional politician himself, Speaker Joe de Venecia, over the issue of peace talks with the communist led-National Democratic Front.

The feeling of unease was also marked when the militant activists had to march during the anti-Erap movement alongside the “socdems” or social democrats. The latter have always harbored rabidly anti-natdem views and elements such as one of Arroyo’s most trusted men Norberto Gonzales, who has unrelentingly attacked the progressive party list candidates in the 2004 elections, using the well-worn socdem dirty trick of redbaiting.

Then there was the awkward time when leaders of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) had to share the stage in protest rallies with Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) veteran leader Crispin Beltran. The unresolved issue there involves the murder of KMU and Bayan’s chairperson, Rolando Olalia Jr., in connection with the “God save the Queen” coup plot against the Aquino regime that is attributed to the RAM and for which there is an ongoing case in court.

Even now, people old enough to remember how Marcos spokesperson and Information Secretary Kit Tatad, intoned the declaration of martial law, have the heebie jeebies sitting in the same press conference with him as he expounds on why Mrs. Arroyo is a bane to the nation.

Arroyo apologists as well as well-meaning critics of the Left have pointed to the jarring spectacle of Bayan-led forces rubbing elbows, shouting the same slogans and sharing the same stage with loyal pro-Erap groups. Recent history had the former leading the movement to oust Estrada while many among the latter groups still pine for the restoration of Estrada to Malacañang.

But this is all par for the course. Time and again Bayan and its allied organizations have entered into specific, short-term and issue-based alliances even with groups and individuals that are part of the ruling elite and are programmatically and strategically opposed to its radical program of reform. The reason for this is no secret: the national democratic movement is committed to building the broadest unity possible against the narrowest target; that is, the faction of the ruling elite that wields state power and is currently causing the most damage to the lives and long-term interests of the Filipino people. In this stage of the struggle, that is none other the US-backed Arroyo regime.

Which is why, despite the initial adverse reactions to the Left’s current alliance with “trapos”, Erap loyalists, etc. the militants are persisting in the difficult and complicated process of trying to relate to all forces that are fighting to depose the Arroyo regime.

The motivation to momentarily set aside philosophical and political differences and even conflicts, is the overriding need to unite against the illegitimate, morally bankrupt, corrupt, murderous and puppet regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and replace it with a government that can begin to lift the country and its people from the morass of poverty, underdevelopment, violent conflicts and political turmoil.

In our book, those are damn good reasons and require no apologies.

July 29-30, 2005


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