July 19, 2017
Renato M. Reyes, Jr, BAYAN secretary general
We thank President Rodrigo Duterte for taking time to meet with Bayan leaders in Malacañang last July 18, 2017. We sought a meeting to inform the President of the planned nationwide SONA protest actions on July 24 and to relay to him 20 urgent people’s demands. The meeting lasted for nearly two hours. The Bayan delegation consisted of representatives from workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, Mindanao activists and progressive lawmakers from the Makabayan coalition.
Unlike past meetings, the atmosphere was somewhat tense, more serious and revealed glaring differences on major issues. After the meeting, it was clear why there should be nationwide mass protests during the SONA. The people must persevere in the fight for genuine change.
After a brief introduction, we went straight to the issue of Martial Law. The President is bent on extending it. We have consistently opposed it. He said that it was not intended to target the Left. The Mindanao activists said that that was not reality on the ground. They related how Martial Law is being used to militarize communities and attack Lumad schools. Several communities have been displaced as a result. Lumad leaders showed the President pictures and other documentation.
On the issue of the stalled peace talks with the NDFP, the President echoed the line of his security cluster that there should first be a prolonged ceasefire before there could be any talk of reforms. We reiterated our position that the peace talks must continue because it is in the interest of the people and that the surest way to achieve peace is through socio-economic and political reforms. It appears that the fate of the talks and the people’s desire for a just peace will again be held hostage by the ceasefire issue.
The President gave no commitment on the issue of militarization of communities, saying that this was a reality in the ongoing civil war. For our part, a condition of extended Martial Law can only mean that military abuses and attacks will increase.
While there remain openings and agreements in principle on several issues, these will still require firm government commitment and militant struggle by the people. During the meeting, we sought to find common ground on the issue labor contractualization, free tuition for State Universities and Colleges, land reform and the issue of destructive mining. There is no clear indication that the President will fulfill his pledge of upholding an independent foreign policy by abrogating the Visiting Forces Agreement any time soon. Meanwhile, he was responsive to calls for the release of elderly and sickly political prisoners and received personal letters and appeals form them.
We again informed the President of the upcoming SONA rallies. He said he will not stop these and will allow protesters to air their demands near Batasan.
After the meeting, we returned to Mendiola to report the results to the Mindanao workers and other sectors who were camped-out since Monday. We would have wanted to bring more good news to them, but such was not the case.
From the foregoing discussion– with Martial Law’s extension under way and the people’s economic conditions worsening– the people are more than ever justified in waging militant struggle for change. We are determined to further expand people’s resistance to the anti-people and anti-national policies of the regime.
The SONA rally will see huge delegations from Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog and Metro Manila, as well as delegations from Mindanao. Protests will be conducted in almost every urban center in the country, from Ilocos to General Santos. On July 23, participants for the SONA rally will begin arriving in Quezon City and hold vigils near Commonwealth Avenue.
On July 22, we are calling on the people to gather at Batasan to protest the Congress special session to railroad the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao. ###