NEW YORK CITY–Hours before Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., gave his first State of the Nation address on July 24, Filipino people throughout the world protested, holding their own “People’s State of the Union Address,” or PSONA.
“The Marcos-Duterte oligarchic symbiosis represents one of the biggest barriers for progress in the Philippines,” Gabriel Rivera told Toward Freedom amid a crowd of about 200 Filipinos who had gathered outside the Philippine consulate in midtown Manhattan, just a few blocks from the United Nations.
As a drumline’s rhythms echoed through the city streets, Filipinos spoke out against Marcos and his vice president, Sara Duterte, both of whom had been elected to office in the island nation on May 9.
The families of Marcos and Duterte have been accused of violating human rights. That includes during the 1972-81 Martial Law Era under Marcos’ father, Ferdinand Sr., and during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs, which has killed over 6,229 alleged drug users since 2016. Rodrigo is the new vice president’s father.
“Two historically violent dynasties with no regard for human rights or the rule of law have just been seated on the two highest positions in the land,” said Rivera, a member of the Malaya Movement, a progressive Filipino organization advocating for human rights in the Philippines. “I am terrified to even imagine how this could affect generations of Filipinos to come.”
To counter the violence in their homeland, grassroots Filipino organizations from the Northeast Coalition to Advance Genuine Democracy, such as Migrante, GABRIELA, Malaya Movement, Anakbayan and Bayan, assembled for the New York City rally. This rally was one of many held around the world for PSONA, an annual global grassroots event, during which Filipinos report on human-rights violations in their homeland to counter the Philippine president’s annual State of the Nation address that takes place on the same day.
The Philippines is a U.S. ally that has waged a war on its own population, killing alleged drug addicts and traffickers. Since 2002, the United States has shipped almost $900 million in arms and has provided more than $1.3 billion in security assistance to the Philippines.
In an interview with Toward Freedom, 25-year-old Momo Manalang denounced the disappearance of three Filipino women activists, allegedly abducted by the Filipino government. She demanded their return.
“Our movement is intergenerational, comprised of both martial-law survivors of families of those slain during the War on Drugs, which persists to this day under Bongbong Marcos,” said Manalang, a member of GABRIELA, a mass-based organization focusing on womens’ rights in the Philippines. “It is imperative as a diaspora to register our condemnation and call for the accountability of both regimes for their crimes against humanity.”
A.J. Santos, a migrant from the Philippines, recounted to Toward Freedom how these administrations have directly affected his family.
“My mom fought Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., during Martial Law and was even hunted by the military while her friends and comrades were tortured and killed,” said Santos, 38, of Migrante, a grassroots organization consisting of migrant Filipinos. “And Duterte, he killed five of my friends with his so-called ‘War on Drugs.’”
Shirley Atienza, a New York-based Filipino migrant and Migrante member, read aloud the nine points of the “People’s Agenda for Change,” while protesters standing behind her held signs outlining each. In bold black paint, they read:
- Regulate prices
- Revive local agriculture
- Enact land reform and national industrialization
- Defend and promote human rights
- Defend freedom of press + speech
- Institute a democratic, ethical and accountable government
- Provide free health care and basic social services
- Uphold national sovereignty and independent foreign policy
- Ensure country’s natural wealth and resources
A protester had adorned cardboard signs to their body in an effigy that listed human-rights violations committed in the Philippines. Painted to look like flames, the signs read:
- “Extreme inflation & economic crisis,”
- “2.9 million unemployed,”
- “Forced migration/separated families,” and
- “Selling out to foreign interests.
The flames were surrounded by cardboard replicas of gas cans that read, “Corrupt family dynasties own all the land, make all the laws,” “US tax $$ funds Philippine Drug War,” and “Historical revisionism & fake news.”
At the top of the protester’s head sat a gas can that read “Marcos.” Draped around their back was the Filipino flag. As participants gathered to smash the gas cans, the crowd recited, “Makibaka! Huwog matakot!” (Struggle! Do not be afraid!) and other revolutionary Filipino chants, cheering for the downfall of Marcos and Duterte.
Being oceans away from their home country doesn’t stop these Filipino revolutionaries from fighting. At least not Theo Aguila, a 25-year-old organizer from Anakbayan, a mass organization consisting of Filipino youth and students.
“It is through action both here and [in] the Philippines that we may enact change for our motherland.”
Cygaelle Bergado is the Summer 2022 Claudia Jones Editorial Intern for Toward Freedom. She can be followed on Twitter at @cy_bergado.