#SONA2013: Asserting freedom to protest amid repression

July 23, 2013

An estimated 15,000 protesters march in Commonwealth Avenue in protest of President Aquino's State of the Nation Address or SONA. (Boy Bagwis)

An estimated 15,000 protesters march along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City in protest of President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address or SONA. (Boy Bagwis)

From the start, it was evident that the Philippine National Police (PNP) was hell-bent on preventing protesters from exercising their constitutional right to protest.

The denial of rally permit by the Quezon City Hall, even as the Constitution does not require it; the presence of container vans, railings, concrete barriers and concertina fences making Commonwealth Avenue one, long obstacle course; the 6,000 cops from different provinces assigned to Commonwealth–all these indicated how adamant the administration was that the protests do not reach within hearing distance of Batasan Pambansa where President Aquino was to deliver his State of the Nation Address that day, July 22.

Despite the obligatory declarations of “maximum tolerance” from PNP officers, the violent demolition of urban poor communities and the wanton use of force in dispersing smaller protest actions in the past few weeks all served as preview of what was to come.

The protesters led by the militant alliance of people’s organizations, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance, Bayan), on the other hand, were not to be deterred. Fueled by disgust at government inaction and complicity amid rising prices of utilities, services and petroleum products, privatization of social services (under the somewhat-new term Public-Private Partnerships) and other basic people’s issues, Bayan declared that it would defy PNP and the Quezon City government and protest at Commonwealth.

And indeed they defied. The 15,000-strong protesters marched past barricading lady cops who patronizingly brought bouquets of flowers and white balloons, and cleverly dispensed of the railings and concertina wires upon reaching the main phalanx of cops past Ever Gotesco Mall. A huge contingent of marchers–composed of workers, women, migrants, and others–shifted to the southbound lane of Commonwealth, claiming this as their space of protest, only to again be confronted by shield-and-stick wielding cops.

A negotiation between militant leaders and cops gave hope that the protesters would be allowed to march. But amid the talks, the sea of helmeted policemen, without warning, lunged into the barricading protesters, pushing them back, sometimes yielding their sticks at defenseless bodies. The activists put-up a valiant resistance, but were soon outmatched.

Three waves of assaults pushed back the protesters, until they were driven back to the northbound lane. According to medical volunteers from the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), at least 41 activists were hurt, some seriously injured. This included elderly activists, like peasant leader Tonying Flores, who passed out during the scuffle, and Martial Law veteran Rudy del Rosario of Selda, who emerged from the assaults bloodied but unbowed. Former progressive lawmakers Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casino, who both fronted the march, were accorded no courtesy: Ocampo was pushed around and broke his glasses, while Casino was in front when cops charged at them with truncheons and shields. Meanwhile, eight were arrested, all of them manhandled by the police. (As of this writing, they continue to be detained.)

At the northbound lane of Commonwealth, Bayan commenced with their program, of militant speeches, cultural performances and burning of an effigy of Aquino in a pig feast. They delivered their stinging rebuke of Aquino’s SONA, and claimed victory for successfully asserting  their right to protest and be heard.

Read back on our live updates of the people’s SONA.

Watch the video of the police assault on the protesters.

Protesters led by Bayan, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Courage, Gabriela, Anakbayan and other militant groups gathered near Luzon Avenue along Commonwealth to begin their march. (Darius Galang)

Protesters led by Bayan, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Courage, Gabriela, Anakbayan, Kadamay and other militant groups gather near Luzon Avenue along Commonwealth to begin their march. (Darius Galang)

Meanwhile, past Ever mall and amid barricades set-up by cops, activists from Southern Tagalog burned an effigy of President Aquino as a bulldozer, indicating his policies that favor big private businesses over the poor. (Darius Galang)

Meanwhile, past Ever mall and amid barricades set-up by cops, activists from Southern Tagalog burn an effigy of President Aquino as a bulldozer, indicating his policies that favor big private businesses over the poor. (Darius Galang)

Farmers, workers, urban poor, youth, women, and other sectors from Southern Tagalog. (Darius Galang)

Farmers, workers, urban poor, youth, women, and other sectors from Southern Tagalog (Darius Galang)

Peasant leaders from Anakpawis Party-list marched with a streamer calling on resistance against Charter Change. (Darius Galang)

Peasant leaders from Anakpawis Party-list march with a streamer calling on resistance against Charter Change. (Darius Galang)

Foreign activists carried placards calling for justice and peace, written in different languages. (Darius Galang)

Foreign activists carry placards calling for justice and peace, written in different languages (Darius Galang)

Bayan Muna members carry oversized yellow ribbons with their calls. (Boy Bagwis)

Bayan Muna members carry oversized yellow ribbons with their calls. (Boy Bagwis)

Cops tried to project an image of a "peace-loving" PNP. (Darius Galang)

Cops try to project an image of a “peace-loving” PNP. (Darius Galang)

A worker carried a placard condemning Aquino's "lies". (KR Guda)

A worker carries a placard condemning Aquino’s “lies”. (KR Guda)

Government workers carried placards calling on the defense of workers' jobs amid threats of privatization and mass firings. (KR Guda)

Government workers carriy placards calling on the defense of workers’ jobs amid threats of privatization and mass firings. (KR Guda)

"Aquino, anti-poor". (KR Guda)

“Aquino, anti-poor”. (KR Guda)

(KR Guda)

(KR Guda)

Activists depict the US imperialism's hand in Aquino's privatization policies, including the privatization of public hospitals like the Philippine Orthopedic Center. (Ilang-Ilang Quijano)

Activists depict the US imperialism’s hand in Aquino’s privatization policies, including the privatization of public hospitals like the Philippine Orthopedic Center. (Ilang-Ilang Quijano)

A placard bearing a photo of a sick child illustrates the poor's lack of access to health services. (Ilang-Ilang Quijano)

(Ilang-Ilang Quijano)

Members of urban poor group Kadamay carry a makeshift house with calls for the urban poor to join in barricades resisting demolition of their houses. (Ilang-Ilang Quijano)

Members of urban poor group Kadamay carry a makeshift house with calls for the urban poor to join in barricades resisting demolition of their houses. (Ilang-Ilang Quijano)

The first phalanx of cops to block the protesters march to Batasan Pambansa are lady policemen, patronizingly bearing flowers and balloons--an obvious media gimmick to show that they were peace-loving. (Ilang-Ilang Quijano)

The first phalanx of cops to block the protesters march to Batasan Pambansa are lady policemen, patronizingly bearing flowers and balloons–an obvious media gimmick to show that they were peace-loving. (Ilang-Ilang Quijano)

"Aquino, anti-worker, anti-people" (Macky Macaspac)

“Aquino, anti-worker, anti-people” (Macky Macaspac)

Effigy of Aquino in a pig feast with the big bourgeois compradors like Peping and Danding Cojuangco, Manny Pangilinan and Jaime Zobel de Ayala. (Macky Macaspac)

Effigy of Aquino in a pig feast with the big bourgeois compradors like Peping and Danding Cojuangco, Manny Pangilinan and Jaime Zobel de Ayala. (Macky Macaspac)

A cop who claims he is a human rights observer does some picture-taking. (Macky Macaspac)

A cop who claims he is a human rights observer does some picture-taking. (Macky Macaspac)

Protesters manage to dismantle the railing and concertina fence set-up by cops to prevent them from marching to the southbound lane of Commonwealth Avenue. (KR Guda)

Protesters manage to dismantle the railing and concertina fence set-up by cops to prevent them from marching to the southbound lane of Commonwealth Avenue. (KR Guda)

(KR Guda)

Marching on, with fists clenched. (KR Guda)

Militant leaders like Vencer Crisostomo of Anakbayan push back the cops who prevent the march from passing through the northbound lane of Commonwealth. (KR Guda)

Militant leaders like Vencer Crisostomo of Anakbayan push back the cops who prevent the march from passing through Commonwealth. (KR Guda)

Protesters push through another line of cops. (Boy Bagwis)

Protesters push through another hordes of cops. (Boy Bagwis)

(Macky Macaspac)

(Macky Macaspac)

A cop calls on reinforcements. (Ilang-Ilang Quijano)

A cop calls on reinforcements. (Ilang-Ilang Quijano)

Migrante chairperson Garry Martinez (lower left, with headscarf), and others stand their ground. (Boy Bagwis)

Migrante chairperson Garry Martinez (lower left, with headscarf), and others stand their ground. (Boy Bagwis)

Cops use their shields, with its sharp edges, to pounce on the protesters. (Boy Bagwis)

Cops use their shields, with its sharp edges, to pounce on the protesters. (Boy Bagwis)

Metal-and-fiberglass shields versus wooden shields. (Boy Bagwis)

Metal-and-fiberglass shields versus wooden shields. (Boy Bagwis)

Some protesters manage to get hold of one of the cops' shields. (Macky Macaspac)

Some protesters manage to get hold of one of the cops’ shields. (Macky Macaspac)

(Macky Macaspac)

(Macky Macaspac)

(Boy Bagwis)

(Boy Bagwis)

(Ilang-Ilang Quijano)

(Ilang-Ilang Quijano)

(Macky Macaspac)

(Macky Macaspac)

(Macky Macaspac)

(Macky Macaspac)

A policeman chokes a protester before arresting him. (Darius Galang)

A policeman chokes a protester before arresting him. (Darius Galang)

One of eight protesters manhandled and arrested. (Darius Galang)

One of eight protesters manhandled and arrested. (Darius Galang)

Another arrested. (Darius Galang)

Another arrested. (Darius Galang)

Concrete barriers, concertina wires, railing, and cops. (Boy Bagwis)

Concrete barriers, concertina wires, railing, and cops. (Boy Bagwis)

Among the severely injured is Rudy del Rosario, a 70-something, Martial Law activist and member of organization of ex-detainees, Selda. (Ilang-Ilang Quijano)

Among the severely injured is Rudy del Rosario, a 70-something, Martial Law activist and member of organization of ex-detainees, Selda. (Ilang-Ilang Quijano)

Former Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino with protesters, as they are being pushed back by cops. (KR Guda)

Former Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino (in light blue shirt) with protesters, as they are being pushed back by cops. (KR Guda)

Migrante's Garry Martinez, nursing an injured arm from the police assault, speaks before during the program. (Macky Macaspac)

Migrante’s Garry Martinez, nursing an injured arm from the police assault, speaks before during the program. (Macky Macaspac)

Street mural depicting people's protests against the Aquino regime. (Soliman A. Santos)

Street mural depicting poor people’s protests against the Aquino regime’s policy of demolishing their communities. (Soliman A. Santos)

(Boy Bagwis)

(Boy Bagwis)

Sandals and shoes left behind by retreating protesters litter Commonwealth. (Soliman Santos)

Sandals and shoes left behind by retreating protesters litter Commonwealth. (Soliman Santos)

Protesters burn effigy of President Aquino. (Boy Bagwis)

Protesters burn effigy of President Aquino. (Boy Bagwis)

Protesters with flags of their organizations dance around Aquino's burnt effigy. (KR Guda)

Protesters with flags of their organizations dance around Aquino’s burnt effigy. (KR Guda)

See other PW photos of the SONA protest action in its Facebook page.