Thousands of Filipinos went out to the streets last Sept. 21 in what may be considered the biggest demonstration of dissent to President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. Ordinary citizens, politicians, left-wing activists, businessmen, professionals, priests, nuns, jeepney drivers and operators, indigenous people, and the organized homeless held marches and staged plays accusing President Duterte of various offenses against the people.
It has been almost two weeks since that day of protest but there has not been any discernible positive response from the President. I didn’t expect him to react, either sympathetically or adversely. The demonstration, sizable the crowd may have been, didn’t jolt or even perturb the President. Neither did it stir civil society groups to manifest an inclination to participate in future demonstrations. In that sense, the Sept. 21 protest was a flop.
For an organized protest to succeed — that is to cause a change towards an improvement in the situation the protesters are unhappy about — the protesters’ grievance must be of immense gravity exuding anger so as to draw people with similar sentiments to join the protest movement. The protesters while coming from various disparate sectors must be united by one singular cause.
The protesters on Sept. 21 had diverse grievances. Sr. May John Mananzan’s followers of ordinary citizens complained against extrajudicial killings, tyranny, martial law, authoritarianism, and the “killing of the Filipino soul,” whatever that is.
Tindig Pilipinas led by Senator Risa Hontiveros called on the Duterte government to be committed to human rights, peace, and the rule of law. The members of the left leaning group Akbayan burned effigies of Duterte and Adolf Hitler. Their placards carried the message “Stop all-out war, end martial law, end state fascism, stop the killings, biguin ang kapayapaan.”
UP Diliman and Ateneo students called for an end to fascism. De La Salle and Adamson undergraduates appealed to the President to stop the killings while UST scholars protested against martial law.
Then there were the jeepney drivers and operators objecting to the modernization of their transport vehicles, the Kadamay people demanding free housing, the lumads appealing for respect for their rights as indigenous people, and the Marawi residents pleading for a cessation of the bombing of their city.
With such diversity of grievances and with the grievances of varying levels of gravity, the Sept. 21 protest has not turned and will not turn into a nationwide movement similar to the ones that chased Marcos and Joseph Estrada out of Malacañang.
There is no martial law in Luzon and the Visayas for the people of those regions to be angry about. Except for the left-leaning citizens, people have no reason to be angry at the fascist US — Duterte regime as they don’t think it exists.
They have not been drawn to join the call to stop the killings because the call is too encompassing. Over 16 million people approve of many of the killings. They elected Rodrigo Duterte president because he promised during his campaign for the presidency that he would redden the waters of Manila Bay with the blood of drug pushers and users.
Besides, extrajudicial killings, fascism, and authoritarianism are concepts beyond the grasp of many of our countrymen. They do not even understand what legislation is all about. They keep on electing to the Senate Tito Sotto simply because he was a good teller of toilet jokes on TV. Another 16 million sent Manny Pacquiao to the Senate simply because he is world boxing champion in eight weight divisions.
Both senators have manifested their incompetence in legislation on many occasions. In 2013, Sotto filed a bill that would mandate all government and nongovernment employees to receive a 14th month bonus. He said the existing 13th month pay is not truly a bonus because there are actually 13 months in a year.
When Pacquiao was asked about his atrocious attendance record in Congress (he was present in only four sessions in 2014) he said, “I don’t sit around making laws like others.” It is obvious he does not know what Congress is for.
Also, most Filipinos do not seem averse to fascism and authoritarianism. They keep on electing to the Senate Juan Ponce Enrile, Gregorio Honasan, and Panfilo Lacson, all strict enforcers of martial law. They keep on sending back to the same Senate Richard Gordon and Miguel Zubiri, both products of a fascist regime.
In the 1973 Constitutional Convention then delegate Gordon campaigned vigorously for the approval of the Constitution dictated by Marcos himself. But in 1987 he went all over the country to speak against the 1987 Constitution drafted by men and women of probity and independence. Zubiri is the son of Jose Zubiri, one of the troika that ran the Coco Levy Fund, a creation of Marcos, not for the benefit of coconut farmers but for his own and of his cronies like Jose Zubiri.
The incontrovertible proof of the people’s acceptance of fascism and authoritarianism is the election of Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. to the Senate in 2010 and his near election to the vice-presidency last year.
A protest to grow into a nationwide movement must be organized and led by people of stature and respected for their intellectual capacity, record of accomplishments, and deep concern for the well-being of the people. Sr. Mananzan is such a person. She has a doctorate degree. She was president of St. Scholastica’s College for six years. She is cofounder of Gabriela and was in the forefront of political activism during the administrations of Marcos, Joseph Estrada, and Gloria Arroyo.
It will be recalled that in 2011 then Justice secretary Leila de Lima had a standing order barring former president Arroyo from leaving the country because of the many pending cases of graft and corruption against her. But Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona and his cohorts in the Court issued a TRO on De Lima’s order, thereby allowing Arroyo to leave the country. Sr. Mananzan and her followers tried to block Arroyo’s entourage to prevent it from getting to the airport.
To provoke reforms, a protest movement requires the involvement of politicians, definitely not the trapo kind but the statesman variety, the likes of the venerable Lorenzo Tañada and Jose Diokno. For one, they have loyal constituents who will follow their lead. Second, they know who in the administration they can influence and what reforms are feasible.
Organizers of demonstration should be wary though of the participation of disgruntled or discredited former government officials unless they resigned from the ruling administration like the Hyatt 10 did because they found the administration to have lost its moral ascendancy to govern.
Lastly, demonstrations, to be successful, must have good relations with mainstream media, the independent ones anyway, not to endorse the cause of the protesters but to provide good coverage of the protesters activities which coverage might inspire people to join the movement.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.