The state of the nation outside the Batasan: What a difference a year makes
Text and photos by Gina Mission

Outside the Batasan Pambansa, while President Estrada was giving his State-of-the-Nation Address,
protesters wearing aprons made of the front pages of leading dailies show their concern over the attacks on press freedom.

or some, President Estrada’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA) was to be a day of reckoning, when, like Dr. Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s opus, he would be asked to pay what he promised in exchange for the gifts he already received.

___It was 11:30 when we reached the Philcoa area in Diliman, Quezon City. Student protesters and members of peasant organizations were marching on their way to the Batasan complex up ahead. Hundreds of uniformed Philippine National Police (PNP) were scattered around the area, directing the traffic and holding up the marchers.

___From inside the van that I hitched a ride in, my companions, all from the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) and Kapatirang Simbahan para sa Bayan (KASIMBAYAN) were jeering at the police. "Nandito kami, hulihin nyo kami!" (We’re here, arrest us!), they sneered as the van passed by the PNP men. "Ah, the beauty of being middle-class activists," they chorused.

___From that moment on, I knew it was going to be an intense day. Even the searing sun, after days of rains and thunderstorms, promised a different kind of day. Not necessarily good, just different.

___Onwards, the traffic went from bad to worse, with most passengers of public transport getting off to walk to wherever they were going. Marchers in full rally gear - native hats, long sleeves, shades, placards, banners and streamers - littered Commonwealth Avenue. When the traffic stopped at St. Peter’s Cathedral, the driver decided we were better off marching to the already-crowded Batasan complex.

___Walking to the Batasan building where protesters were thickest, a policeman stopped me, mistaking me for a rallyist. When I showed him my press ID, he mumbled an apology, saying that it was just "work," nothing personal. I asked if his "work" was to stop protesters from going to Congress at the Batasan. "We are just following orders," was his quick reply.

___By 12:30, the protesters segregated themselves into four groups: the BAYAN-GABRIELA group and their networks of multi-sectoral coalitions, the group headed by the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) and the Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng Maralitang taga-Lungsod (KPML), the group of the Freedom from Debt Coalition and its networks, and the church-people’s group.

"Singilin!" was their collective cry, referring to Estrada’s promises when he was still campaigning for the presidency.

___Alice Magbanua, Cynthia Roman, and Rosario Ilustrisimo were three women from Almana, Navotas, who joined the protest-rally to remind the President of his promise to them during the presidential campaign. "He promised us that there will not be any demolition in our area and that he will eventually give us titles to the land that we occupy. We voted for him because he was the only candidate who promised us this," Magbanua told CyberDyaryo. But just last week, Magbanua continued, two houses in Brgy. Alaman were demolished, without any prior notice, to give way to a new SM mall that she heard will soon be built in the area.

___"We are scared our houses will be the next to be demolished. The barangay captain couldn’t do anything. We don’t want to leave our houses. That is our home," Roman literally screamed, amidst the maddening noise from the crowd.

___Ilustrisimo, the oldest of the three, added that even if they are relocated, which is unlikely, given that there has not been any consultation with the residents prior to the demolition, she would still prefer to stay in Almana. "Our livelihood is there. What good is a new home in a resettlement area when we won’t have anything to do for a living?" she asked.

___"I am old. I don’t want to spend the rest of whatever is left of my life building a new home again. All I want is to get through this life as peacefully as possible," Ilustrisimo, 68, added.

___Lito Antonio, a self-confessed by-stander, told CyberDyaryo that he just wanted to "sympathize with the protesters."

___"I’m not affiliated with any group. I did not vote for Erap. But as a Filipino, I believe it is my right to have my voice heard, along with other Filipinos. Like most of them, I am also feeling the worsening poverty situation in Manila," he said. A former overseas worker, Antonio added that the President is not backing up his words with actions.

___"Bida noon, kontrabida ngayon," (A hero then, a villain now) was how Rafael Mariano, secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KMP), described the President after a year in office. Instead of poverty alleviation as promised by the President, Mariano said his first year in office has only "worsened the monopoly of resources by landlords and transnational fishing operators." He also lambasted government’s promotion of the "corporative" scheme of land reform and the coco levy fund deal that he said is "in the offing."

___Mariano dismissed the President’s food security program as a failure, saying that "all it contains are high-value export crops, golf courses and land conversion, and importation of basic crops."

___"Food security for him is security through importation, not self-sufficiency. From experience, we know that it is only those who can afford to buy these products who can be assured of food, and landless farmers are not in the position to be able to afford such," he added.

___Urban-poor families from North Triangle in Quezon City who have lived in a tent city across the Batasan for two and a half years, displayed 20 caskets at the gates of the Batasan to symbolize not only their plight but the total number of deaths which have occurred since they moved there.

___KPML leader Jess Panis told CyberDyaryo that during Estrada’s first SONA, these people lined up along the Batasan to welcome him with full enthusiasm. The felt that, at last, their man had arrived. Last Monday, however, they were shouting anti-Erap slogans. Also joining them were families of enlisted and civilian personnel living in Fort Bonifacio who deplored the administration’s failure to act on their demand to implement Presidential Proclamation 461which awarded a portion of Fort Bonifacio land to them.

___Groups from the labor sector hit the increasing daily cost of living for a family of six in Metro Manila. This had reached P464 by the second quarter of the year, at a time when with the daily minimum wage is P198. Compounding this discrepancy is the recent presidential pronouncement that the labor sector is "spoiled."

___Buklurang Manggagawa ng Pilipinas members wore vaudeville masks representing the President in between the "exhilarated" faces of the rich and the "grieving" poor. Adding to the excitement to the "mask festival" was the arrival of oversized mascots of the President, Imelda Marcos, Lucio Tan, Danding Cojuangco, Ronaldo Zamora, and Fernando Poe, Jr., depicting the common notion that these kind of people are the ones "reaping the fruits of the Estrada presidency."

___Students represented by the Movement for the Advancement of Student Power (MASP), also joined in, with placards saying "Down with commercialized education!" and "Uphold press freedom!"

___Not to be outdone, the women’s sector, headed by Gabriela, spoofed the popular noontime game Pera o Bayong with their own version, called Erap o Bayong. "Filipino women are worse off today than a year ago," said Liza Masa, Gabriela secretary general.

___Such pronouncements by the protesters, however, seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as President Estrada assumed a combative stance in his 65-minute speech before a joint session of the 11th Congress inside the Batasang Pambansa Complex.

___Denying all charges of cronyism, and curtailment of press freedom, he said that the international community has even assessed his one-year stewardship as ''among the leaders of the region" -- "a long way from the skepticism'' that the former actor encountered when he took over as President.

___The country’s international prestige, he said, is on the rise, as indicated by the "dramatic rebound in the stock market." His popularity rating, he announced, is still very high at 77.6-per cent. The following day, however, the stock market dropped 113 points or nearly 4.8 per cent. A Business World report described it as the "third largest percentage drop this year and the largest in terms of points since January 1998."

___Whatever this sudden market drop actually indicates is beyond the comprehension of people like the women of Navotas - Magbanua, Roman and Ilustrisimo. For them, the matter is as simple as "making good on a promise."

___Still, amid the thunderous applause that greeted the President’s SONA, would he even hear the 25,000-plus voices of protests outside the halls of Congress?

CyberDyaryo | 1999.07.29