#SONA2013: Asserting freedom to protest amid repression
July 23, 2013
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.
See other PW photos of the SONA protest action in its Facebook page.