Opinion

From the Other Side of the Barricades

By Harmony Valdoz |

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SONA rally. The protesters and policemen are standing opposite each other. Photo by Czar Elcano

When my professor told me we were to cover the rally of militant groups during the State of the Nation Address of President Aquino, it evoked in me very little expectations and feelings. I was warned of mayhem but was not scared since it happens every year and I have little knowledge of “activism” yet quite a few opinions on its efficacy. Armed with a camera and placidity, I rode the service car to Commonwealth Avenue where the predicted clash between protesters and the police force was to happen. The assignment was simple enough: take pictures of the event and the people, applying what we have learned so far in photography. I made a mental note to interview some people too, my intentions rather self-serving as it was for the fulfillment of yet another fieldwork subject.

Perched atop the barricades and near barbed wires, I initially thought the event quite bleak, my camera shutter snapping away. There was the staple effigy, the usual screaming banners, and speakers on a makeshift stage hollering injustices even louder, but to only a handful of audience who were protesters themselves. I was more impressed by the number of policemen stationed at the place, some of them sitting behind container vans merely eating their lunches as if it was just an ordinary day. This ignorance set me up for a surprise later when thousands of people marched through the streets to add to the already present crowd. Seeing them from the overpass gave me chills along with their booming chants; spirits clearly not dampened by the rain.

The woman beside me cheered. From what I overheard, she belongs to one of the protest groups and has been joining these SONA rallies for years. “Mas marami ngayon kaysa dati. Patay ka na, PNoy!” she exclaimed with apparent gaiety, beaming as if she believed this larger crowd would be the end of the President. No, Maam, I wanted to tell her. He’s probably just getting dressed at this moment. Warming up hours before his speech.

When I felt I had enough pictures and could afford myself some time with eyes off the lens, I talked to the woman. Her name is Mila, a member of Alyansa ng Mandaragat from Bacoor, Cavite. She said she has been in Quezon City since the night before, July 27. Their group slept in the vehicles they rented out especially for the rally.

The efforts they put in these protests have always struck me as odd. I assumed it was because some politicians are funding these events and protesters get paid somehow, or else why would they go to such great lengths? I was proven wrong for the second time that day. Mila told me that every month, she and her companions pitch in contributions to cover for the expenses needed for uniforms, paraphernalias, and travel accommodations. A realization hit me; this woman, along with other farmers and workers present, actually take out parts of their measly budget to join this rally. And so they have no choice but to believe that it is actually going to change something and make their lives better. It was as if Amado Hernandez’s novel on class struggle between land-owners and farmers, Luha ng Buwaya, came to life. It is actually happening in real life.

Later that day, water cannons were fired at protesters as they tried to break down the barricades as they always do every year. The crowd finally dispersed at around 6:00 PM. After July 28, the President will face another year to live up to the promises of his speech until the next SONA comes. The politicians and personalities present will don their clothes in which they were judged either as head-turning or eyebrow-raising. The rally leaders who are mostly partylist representatives would go back to their offices and maybe try to have the president impeached. The MMDA surely will have a tough time cleaning up the mess left on Commonwealth Avenue and scrubbing clean the concrete which artistic activists used as canvas to paint on. I have submitted the photos i took to my professor and e-mailed a news story to another. But what about these people? What about the workers who travelled far and wide, marched great distances, held up banners, and chanted at the top of their lungs? What is next for them? Will they get the compensation that is due their efforts? Would property developers stay off the land they toil on now? For their sake, I truly hope so.

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