“Under the Duterte regime, it has gotten dimmer and dimmer,” a representative from Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA) tells us. “This year, our anger is mixed with grief, with mourning.”
In the last few weeks, 55 Lumad schools were shut down, our contractualized workers are still fighting for their rights, and our farmers are being gunned down. Our nation is not okay. It hasn’t been for a long time.
SAKA is one of the youth activist groups marching at SONA ng Bayan. Adjacent to Duterte’s State of the Nation Address, SONA ng Bayan aims to shed light to the real state of the nation straight from various communities. “Enough is enough,” they scream in hopes of getting heard by the people in power.
“The real SONA is on the streets, through the struggles of the restless masses who collectively clamor for genuine independence and change.”
People identified us young people to be The Me Generation. But as the President tells the State of the Nation today, many young Filipinos will defy expectations by taking a stand. There are hundreds of us today putting their focus and energy into the nation, not just ourselves.
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Instead of jeering on what dumb, meme-able content Duterte will spew this SONA, we focused our energy on people who deserve to be heard—young activists.
Here are young progressive minds from SAKA, Anakbayan, Gabriela Youth, Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, Sandigan ng Mag-aaral para sa Sambayanan, and Save San Roque sharing the real current state of the nation.
How has your perspective on SONA changed in the past years?
Before I became a member of Anakbayan, I have already been doubtful of the so-called ‘achievements’ being flaunted during SONAs since the time of Aquino. For me, it only seemed like a spectacle to make the Filipino people believe in a false sense of development. Until now, it remains the same for me.
The last three SONA of Duterte served only to justify the wanton killings under his war on drugs, Martial Law, and “all-out war against terrorism,” and to peddle the illusion of economic growth. It’s still the same spectacle but made more ‘extravagant’ with his use of profanities and bravado.
How did you prepare for this year’s SONA?
We have been forging broad unities among students from various schools as well as youth from communities, factories, and farmlands. We have built a broad alliance for the assertion of our national sovereignty, ATIN ANG PINAS which was immediately supported by organizations, student leaders, and personalities.
We launched the State of the Youth Address or SOYA in various schools and communities to highlight the situation of the youth under three years of Duterte’s rule.
Why are mobilizations like SONA ng Bayan important to get our plights heard?
We get to present the true situation of the nation amid the government’s attempts to cover up the truth. It serves as an avenue to shift the attention towards the unheard majority—the workers, farmers, students, national minorities, among others.
Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP)
First of all, could you tell us more about your organization?
Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) – Metro Manila is an ecumenical national democratic mass organization aiming to unite the Christian youth from different traditions based in the National Capital Region. SCMP, since the ‘70s is active in participating in social issues especially those concerning human rights, justice, and peace.
As young Christians, why is it important for you to participate in fighting for civil rights?
The teachings of Our Almighty God reflects in all aspects of life. Daniel, in the Old Testament, has served in civil government and using his influence helped in the development of other nations. The New Testament told the holy works of Christ as he was doing not only spiritual but as well as physical healing. He fed the poor and healed the sick.
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But these “good works” do not only mean charity and sympathy. It also requires actual participation in the pursuit of social justice. In a nation where millions lie below the poverty line, we should ask what keeps them in destitution. Upon finding the right answers through dialogue and conscientization with these sectors, we must join them in their struggle. Not only through prayers, but through solidarity and action.
As Proverbs 31: 8-9 states, we must “speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are impoverished; speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and the needy.”
Why does the SONA ng Bayan matter to your organization?
Some say that the significance of “parliamentary of the streets” has ended and it gave birth to the “parliamentary of social media,” but we think not. The overwhelming number of protesters will always be the barometer of dissent, not the number of “reach,” “likes,” and “shares.” It silences the marginalized even more.
Protests, mobilizations, and pickets are the actual representation of democracy which consolidates and gives our plight a human face.
“The overwhelming number of protesters will always be the barometer of dissent, not the number of ‘reach,’ ‘likes,’ and ‘shares.’ It silences the marginalized even more.”
Marielle of Gabriela Youth
What will your organization do for this year’s SONA?
This year’s SONA is extra challenging for our organization. With the worsening political climate under the Duterte administration, it is our urgent task to educate and organize young people regarding the anti-youth and fascist policies this regime wanted to enact without further consultations from its main stakeholders.
These policies include mandatory ROTC to SHS students, lowering of MACR and many others. We conducted day-to-day discussions with students, roundtable discussions and lobbying to the lawmakers in the Congress and staged our pre-SONA event, Girl Talk, where we presented an alternative SONA that speaks of the real situation of the marginalized sector.
At this point, where do you think young people stand on SONA?
The young people will stand strong on the side of the oppressed: peasants, workers, urban poor, women, national minorities.
Why is going to this year’s SONA ng Bayan more important than ever?
This year’s SONA ng Bayan is more important than ever because this will highlight the growing united front against the fascist dictator who brought upon too many sufferings to the Filipino people.
Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo
As progressive artists, how did you plan to be heard in this year’s SONA?
We will march with the rest of the peasant sector to demand free land distribution—the primary component of the genuine agrarian reform—as well as an end to the killings.
To prepare for SONA, we wanted to be reminded of what we’re protesting against this fascist regime for. We held our second-year general assembly just last week as a chance to talk about the perils our peasantry face under Duterte. We had also released a statement and a call to join the United People’s SONA, featuring an image that depicts Duterte with Xi Jinping and Donald Trump as a three-headed hydra. Duterte is, after all, not the sole monster crushing national sovereignty: He is acting on behalf of two imperialist masters.
“Sinisingil ng kabataan ang pasistang rehimen!”
Following that, we launched the comics anthology “Sauron,” bearing graphic adaptations of eye-witness accounts from family members of the 14 farmers who were killed by the coordinated police and military action Oplan Sauron last Mar. 30 in Negros. Yesterday, we opened the art exhibition “Yuta Ug Pagbarug,” which had at its centerpiece 14 portraits of the Negros 14.
At this point, what’s the role of young people in movements like these?
The youth are hungry for change! There is a general feeling of having been duped: This regime had deceived us with its tough talk, with its posturings against corruption. It certainly fooled many of us when it started talking about an independent foreign policy, with expletives aimed at the previous US dispensation. And yet nothing came out of Duterte’s tough talk, which has largely degenerated into equal parts lunacy and misogyny.
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The change the youth desire and which Duterte had promised did not come; instead, he gave us a worse version of the last anti-peasant regime, which was Noynoy Aquino’s. The youth will hold him accountable. Sinisingil ng kabataan ang pasistang rehimen!
Sandigan ng Mag-aaral para sa Sambayanan
As young student activists, how has your perception of SONA changed?
In retrospect, SONA from an initial perception was just another significant national event attended by politicians and personalities across the country whose major objective is to summarize through a presidential speech the accomplishments and milestones of the administration seated at present.
However, upon careful analysis, it is revealed to be an ornament only to the filth of the administration which forms are those of corruption, exploitation, and deception. The real SONA is on the streets, through the struggles of the restless masses who collectively clamor for genuine independence and change.
“For this year’s SONA, we already had enough evidence to prove the neglect and betrayal of the government to its people.”
Where does the Filipino youth stand on the real state of the nation?
Since then, the youth has always stood steadfastly for the protection of the sector. With the ongoing attacks of the state against its citizens, from state-sponsored killings and neoliberal reforms in education and health to the red-tagging of student leaders, young people were able to elevate their level of sociopolitical consciousness in order to combat the mentioned.
Young people have collectively risen against Mandatory ROTC, Mandatory Random Drug Testing, K-12, school fees, and the bogus free education that all threaten their democratic rights.
Is this year’s SONA more important than ever?
This administration has come to a point where the rights of its own people are highly neglected and we can see that history is about to repeat itself. It’s like a dictator is sitting at the throne again. However, we believe that there is no better or important time than now to act upon it. Years of collective action had proven the power to achieve different aims.
For this year’s SONA, we already had enough evidence to prove the neglect and betrayal of the government to its people.
Save San Roque
What do you think has changed since Duterte’s first SONA?
Since his first SONA three years ago, 27,000 Poor Filipinos have been killed in his bloody Oplan Tokhang, millions of Filipinos living at the margins have been victimized by his TRAIN Tax Reform Law that caused prices to spike up, the same poor households are also being threatened to have rice, the filling & cheap Filipino staple food, removed from their dining tables as Duterte’s Rice Tarrification Law threatens to remove their supply of low-cost NFA in favor of a more expensive imported rice. To whitewash his crimes, NEDA lowered their standard for a family to be considered “under the poverty line,” in effect, lowering families in poverty.
His promise to end contractualization and to provide jobs—to “reduce poverty” has not really materialized in a way that benefits the masses. His newly signed Magna Carta of the Urban Poor and the programs that will be created under it will remain “performative” and “tokenistic” as long as it maintains the same bureaucratic processes that hinder the underprivileged poor from having access to any government assistance.
Duterte reduced those in poverty by executing them or by bastardizing the criteria that determine their numbers.
“His promise to end contractualization and to provide jobs—to ‘reduce poverty’ has not really materialized in a way that benefits the masses.”
What are the issues that Save San Roque would like to raise at this year’s SONA ng Bayan?
These are the problems that continuously plague the Filipino urban poor. Save San Roque is a broad group of volunteer architects, engineers, educators, organizers, artists, and students formed in solidarity with the urban poor sector, specifically the urban poor community of Sitio San Roque in Quezon City. Our primary advocacy is to assert the rights of the said community to proper state housing and just development programs amid an on-going threat of demolition and eviction.
We, at Save San Roque, recognize the systemic and interlocking roots of the urban poor’s problems. Right to the city and right to decent, pro-poor and affordable housing are not the only things that are being taken away from the urban poor—but their right to any degree of social mobility through deprivation—in land tenure, job security, humane wages, and quality education. These are the interlocking issues that need to be focused on to make substantial change and to truly reduce those in poverty.
“Right to the city and right to decent, pro-poor and affordable housing are not the only things that are being taken away from the urban poor—but their right to any degree of social mobility through deprivation—in land tenure, job security, humane wages, and quality education. ”
The fight doesn’t end at SONA ng Bayan, but what should young people do after?
Oftentimes, the urban poor is left out and displaced to make way for what developers and the state often call “development.” But we—as youth and as young professionals—we can do something for and with the urban poor. We can imagine a better city with them and we can participate in re-molding that city with them to create one that reflects “development for all.”
Photo courtesy of Anakbayan Partylist