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Govt forces elbow anti-Sona protests

By Jigger J. Jerusalem with JOEY NACALABAN
and LITO RULONA, Correspondent .

POLICE officers, soldiers and other government workers occupied sections of Divisoria park hours before President Duterte delivered his fourth State-of-the-Nation Address (Sona) yesterday.

Musician-soldiers from the Army’s 4th Infantry Division perform at Kiosko Kagawasan in Divisoria to counter anti-Sona demonstrations in downtown Cagayan de Oro yesterday. (photo by Jigger J. Jerusalem)

What used to be the stomping ground of progressive groups and civil society organizations during protest actions became the venue for the government agencies to extend their services to the public.

Tents were set up as medical staff from the National Police, Army’s 4th Infantry Division, Department of Health and other offices conducted the outreach program, such as check-up, giving of medicines, and tooth extraction.

Fully armed uniformed soldiers and law enforcers positioned in the park’s every corner.

Activists march on the busy Don Apolinar Velez Street in downtown Cagayan de Oro while chanting slogans and carrying streamers and placards aimed at expressing their grievances against the Duterte administration in time for the President’s state-of-the-nation adddress yesterday. (photo by Joey Nacalaban)

At the center of the park, bands from Camp Alagar and Camp Evangelista provided entertainment.

Camp Alagar spokesperson Lt. Col. Mardy Hortillosa called the whole-day event the “Sona peace rally” and was organized to counter the anti-government protests usually held at the park.

Cagayan de Oro City Police Office information officer Maj. Evan Viñas said the purpose of the rally was “to educate the civilians on the dangers and hazardous effects of participating in mass protests, to disrupt their plans in creating public disturbances and to draw away from joining the rally on [Duterte’s] Sona 2019.”

Without a place at the park to stage their indignation, a group of protesters just went around Divisoria carrying banners and streamers.

Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) regional chairperson Ophelia Tabacon said their failure to hold the protest action was alarming.

“We are worried that the people will never know the real situation of our country, as only the progressive groups have the courage to tell the truth,” Tabacon said.

She said ACT and other militant groups have been very vocal about the issues and controversies hounding the Duterte administration and holding a mass action at the Divisoria park is their way of informing the masses.

Tabacon said the Duterte regime has been doing everything to cover up the wrongdoings he and his favored officials have committed.

Although drowned out, protesters in the city still took turns in lambasting the Duterte administration over what they said was his failure to deliver on the promises he made in time for his fourth state-of-the-nation address yesterday.

Lawyer Beverly Musni, Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) chair, said they took to the streets again to reiterate their call for the government stop harassments against leaders and members of progressive groups.

“Enough is enough with the people’s aggravated suffering! Since Duterte took office, the people were not salvaged from their impoverished situation but were rather inhumed by his anti-poor policies such as the Train Law, Rice Tariffication Law, ‘Build, Build, Build,’ and the like,” reads part of a UPLM statement given to reporters.

Although the march rally was attended by only about 200 protesters from across the city, Musni said the more important thing was that they were able to dramatize their opposition to what she called as the culture of impunity under the Duterte administration.

The group said the President’s fourth Sona would only “fan the flames of rage of the Filipino peple to further expose, oppose, and resist his anti-people and anti-poor policies.”

The Rev. Fr. Rolando Abejo, chairman of the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT), said they would not get tired in calling the attention of those in power, and to ask them to take care of the people.

“Kanang Sona sa Presidente walay kalainan sa una, wala gihapon nay unod. Dili na gahisgot sa tinood nga problema sa katawhan ug tinood nga sitwasyon sa nasud,” Abejo said.

For his part, Iglesia Filipina Independiente Bishop Antonio Ablon of Pagadian, president of Mindanao Bishops’ Conference, said similar demonstrations were staged in major cities across Mindanao like Davao, Butuan, Marawi, Tandag, Gen. Santos, and Surigao.

Collectively, he said, many people still marched and signified their protest to the culture of impunity.

“Hustisya og pag-uli sa Marawi City ang singgit karon sa mga Moro people nga unta makabalik na sila sa Marawi City. Ang gipasalig nga kalinaw og paghimo nga balaod sa Bangsamoro Basic Law and the new autonomy concerning the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” he said.

Ablon also claimed that about 100 Lumad schools were ordered closed down because the National Task Force to End Local Communist Insurgency imposed on indigenes especially in Bukidnon province.

He said even the Roman Catholic Church has also aired their concerns over the cases of extrajudicial killings.

Those who also aired their concerns were priest and bishops like Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo of Kidapawan, Bishop Dinualdo Gutierez of Marbel, Bishop Edwin dela Pena of Marawi and Bishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro.

Ablon said the bishops in Mindanao also aired their concern over the red tagging of lawyers like Musni, Joe Begil and Manuel Quibod, and media workers in Mindanao.

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