‘CAN UNITY FEED US?’: Progressive groups to counter SONA with protests

Representatives of various groups present their calls during a pre-SONA press conference Thursday in Lapaz, Iloilo City. (Joseph Bernard A. Marzan)

By Joseph Bernard A. Marzan

Progressive groups in Iloilo will hold their annual ‘State of the People’s Address’ protest action on July 24, aiming to “raise the voices of the farmers, fishers, drivers, urban poor, smaller operators, and other sectors” to counter President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).

This protest action will also include calls for a ₱750 minimum wage, salary grade increase for public school teachers, stopping Tuition and Other Fee increases for private colleges and universities, and aid for agriculture sector workers, among others.

They will also criticize the current progress of the Marcos Jr. administration, which include the continued red-tagging of activists, human rights defenders, and members of their affiliated groups, as well as the recent passage of Republic Act No. 11954 (Maharlika Investment Act of 2023).

Also to be tackled are local issues, including the forced eviction of some vendors from the Iloilo Central and Iloilo Terminal markets due to redevelopment, and the issues hounding the Ungka and Aganan Flyovers.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Panay spokesperson Elmer Forro said in a press conference on Thursday, July 20, that there has been almost no change under the Marcos Jr. administration from the Duterte administration.

“Last year, we faced the worst inflation rates. Oil and gas prices, as well as consumer goods have risen. […] The people are demanding intervention from the government to slow down this rise, but nothing has happened. The government can do something. Suspending VAT and excise taxes on oil and gas can reduce prices by ₱20, but the government is not budging,” Forro said.

Panay Consumers’ Alliance spokesperson Lucy Francisco challenged the current administration’s top priority – food security – which she said also stretches to the Western Visayas region.

“Payments in electricity utilities and other basic facilities haven’t come down. Rice prices last year, and that’s of the lowest quality, is at ₱33 [per kilogram], and now it’s at ₱43. If your [daily] income is at ₱450, minus the transport fares of your spouse and children, that might be at ₱300 remaining. Do you think that can fit for one day? Food is the most important for the people. Even coffee and sugar prices have risen. For poor people, getting sick is not allowed,” Francisco said.

PAMANGGAS chair Lucia Capaducio said that the agricultural sector, which includes farmers, fisherfolk, and other workers in related jobs, have continued to wait for a ₱15,000 aid from the national government.

Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Union Region 6 coordinator Max Montero said that their group will continue to push for salary increases for public school teachers from the entry level upwards, as well as the hiring of 30,000 new public school teachers.

Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Carpio thumbed down the hiring of more teachers, calling it unrealistic, which Montero rebuffed, citing the Aquino administration’s hiring of around 150,000 teachers within 6 years.

The protests will be held at their usual haunt in the vicinity of the Iloilo Provincial Capitol, where it has been held for many years even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Forro revealed they were supposed to hold marches from the University of the Philippines Visayas along General Luna Street and St. Clements Church and would converge at the capitol.

But this was cancelled because their request for a permit was expressly denied by City Administrator Melchor Tan.

The protest action coincides with the kick-off of the nationwide transport strike to be conducted by traditional jeepney operators and drivers, which is set to be until July 26, and would be joined by those from Panay, Guimaras, and Negros islands.

Wareen Gangoso, president of the No To PUV Phaseout Coalition, which declared the local participation to the strike on Monday, said that this was because “transport issues are people’s issues”, and that the protest action and the strike may raise greater public awareness on mass transport concerns.