The State of the Nation — in the Streets of Davao

Jul. 25, 2006

To many people, the state of the nation under Arroyo can be summed up in these words that were printed on a stage backdrop: “GMA’s SONA: War, Fascism and Hunger against the Filipino People.”

By Marilou Aguirre, Cheryll D. Fiel,
Jetty-Ayop Ohaylan and Grace S. Uddin

DAVAO CITY Once more, they were out in the streets, close to three thousand of them.

Some had to leave important work in the farm, in plantations, in factories, and walked kilometers to reach town centers and rode to this city on open dumptrucks under the heat of the noonday sun.

They were coming from the provinces of Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental in the north, and Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur from the south.

There were students who had skipped classes, housewives who had to bring along their small children to the march — all because they had to be in the streets of Davao that day.

Unfortunately, just like the last protest on Independence Day, they started late. And most of the participants from the provinces in the north were unable to join the march because their vehicles were held four times along the police and military checkpoints en route to this city.

Worst, they had a terrifying experience with a military official at the Task Force Davao Tibungco checkpoint, who allegedly cocked a gun in front of the team who was negotiating for their passage.

The officer was identified as certain Lt. Mario Roldan of the TFD. Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Ariel Casilao said they would file a case against the official.

They were only released after two hours, no longer able to join the march and, instead, proceeded to the Rizal Park just to attend the program.

But Dominggo Deguma, a 50-year-old farmer from Tibal-og, Kapalong, Davao Del Norte, who works at the Marsman banana plantation, said they had expected the harassment.

“They (police and military authorities) wanted to delay us but we were determined to pursue this. After all, we had worked for this for almost a week,” Deguma said, adding that organizing a protest rally takes a lot of time, a lot of meetings and preparations.

They had to borrow vehicles, or pay for them with their own money. For a banana plantation worker like him, they had to arrange a one-day leave with the company. Deguma is one of the more than 80 workers of Marsman who had to leave work at a banana plantation that day. “But we did not go through all these to listen to the lies of President Arroyo,” Deguma said.

“We are here so the people will know that our situation now is the real state of the nation and not what Arroyo will say in her speech,” Deguma said.

Deguma thinks Arroyo would be lying again in her SONA because she had to cover up the fact that she had not done anything for workers like him.

For instance, he said, workers had long demanded for a 125 peso increase but instead, they got only a mere 16-peso Cost of Living Allowance increase for this year.

The Regional Tripartite Wages and Development Board (RTWPB) decided on the 16-peso COLA for Southern Mindanao workers this year because, according to wage board member Bienvenido Carriaga, “this is what a family of six needs to acquire the basic commodities in a day,” based on the data they gathered.

“Sixteen pesos is not even enough anymore to buy a kilo of rice these days!” Deguma said.

Elenito Escalante, a public-school teacher who joined the rally, said teachers no longer believe in the president. “We are facing the same problems we have long complained about: low salary, lack of school facilities. We see nothing new. Her previous lies and deceptions are enough. We are fed up,” Escalante said.

For Escalante, it is important for him that the impeachment complaint against the president will prosper. “She must be ousted so that change can happen.

Marcelino Mantikinon, an Ata-Manobo who came to Davao City all the way from the hinterlands of Davao del Norte, said he joined the rally because there were many things he wanted the people to know.

One of these, he said, is that Lumads are fed up with the trouble that the military has caused in their community called Bagang in Talaingod, Davao Del Norte.

He complained that recently, soldiers had destroyed the water hose that the governments Kalahi CIDSS program installed in their community. “They were suspecting that we were using them to support the NPA (New People’s Army),” Mantikinon said.

Maritess Carias, a married woman with two children from a Moro community in Mandug, said she joined the rally because she wanted to join the growing voices of Moro people who are struggling against continuing discrimination, which is exacerbated by worsening conditions of landlessness and joblessness.

Carias is one of the few women in their community who was able to attend college. If not for her membership with the Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC), there was no way she could pursue college, she said. An ROTC cadet in their school can avail of a 50-percent tuition discount.

But Carias never graduated. She ended up applying as a salesgirl at a mall. But a fellow Moro who applied was not accepted when she declared her religion. “What I did was I did not declare that I was a Muslim,” Carias said.

Carias lamented that many Moro women like her in their community are jobless.

Neneng, a housewife from Puan, this city, said she joined the rally to show that they are fed up with Arroyo’s promises. Neneng said life has become harder for her and her family. She said making do with a weekly 800-peso budget for food drives her insane. This is the only amount her husband, who is a construction worker, can give her in a week.

Jobelle Roxas, an education student at the University of Southeaster Philippines (USP), thought it was more important to attend the rally than her class that afternoon. “This happens only once a year,” Roxas said.

“I want the president to know that that we students are angry at her. She has given more focus on military rather than education, contrary to what is written in the law that education must be a priority,” she said. “There’s money for war, but none for education.

To these people, the state of the nation under Arroyo can be summed up in these words that were printed on the stage backdrop: “GMA’s SONA: War, Fascism and Hunger against the Filipino People.” (Marilou Aguirre, Cheryll D. Fiel, Jetty-Ayop Ohaylan and Grace S. Uddin/

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