ON the day that President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), change was palpable.
For the first time in years, there were no barbed wires, container vans, military tanks or phalanxes of policemen clashing with rallyists at Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City or in areas near the House of Representatives.
Also for the first time, militant groups were allowed near the House of Representatives as early as 8 a.m.
“This is historic because we were never allowed to reach Batasan Road since I joined rallies in 1992,” Renato Reyes, Bayan national chairman, said.
In the past SONAs, container vans were used to blocked rallyists from getting near the House.
The leadership of the Philippine National Police decided not to put up barricades because militant groups led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) promised to hold a peaceful rally, according to Senior Supt. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar, acting director of the Quezon City Police District (QCPD).
An estimated 30,000 members of various groups marched to the Batasan Pambansa on Monday.
Reyes said his group was happy because they were allowed near the House of Representatives.
“He (Duterte) did what was agreed on when we went to Malacañang to ask permission to get near Batasan,” he told the reporters.
Reyes said they held a rally to show their support to the President. He described Duterte as a leader who understands the militant groups’ grievances.
“The big difference today is the president. The president understands. The president is not afraid to listen,” he said.
He said they continued their tradition of holding a “people’s SONA” because it is where the real situation of the country can be elevated by simple folks like workers, farmers and the urban poor.
Reyes however clarified that despite their “alliance” with the Duterte administration, his group will continue to push the government to stop the contractualization of workers, stem unemployment and underemployment, address landlessness of huge number of farmers, poverty and hunger, militarization on many rural areas and human rights violations, among many other concerns.
Renato Magtubo, national chairman of Partido Manggagawa (PM), and Reinhart Nuena of Protect Mindanao Group, agreed with Reyes.
“Contractualization, just like drugs, destroys lives, wreaks families and ruins the future of the youth,” Magtubo said.
“How can a decent life for a family be sustained when breadwinners are paid poverty wages without benefits and who lose their jobs after five months? We would like to see big time pushers of contractualization, among whom are the richest capitalists, be penalized as criminals,” he added.
The peaceful holding of SONA rallies pleased PNP chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.
Dela Rosa said it was the first time that policemen deployed to keep the peace did not feel threatened by protesting militant groups.
“This is the first time in the history of the Philippines that we have a SONA and that the police are not feeling threatened… our policemen are relaxed,” he told reporters.
“We allowed them [militants]to get inside the Batasan Road. Totally Commonwealth road is clean. There are no barricades, no traffic problem… they are inside the (Batasan road) around 300 meters from the entrance of Batasan,” Dela Rosa said.
“Those militants who used to battle with policemen are there to show their support to the administration. They are no longer aggressive,” he said.
“This is the change that we are now observing, we are now experiencing… before militant groups are clashing with the policemen that are securing the SONA,” he added.