2023: the year of the p⁨eople’s pushback

By Raymond Palatino

From transport strikes to solidarity actions, Filipinos defied state-imposed restrictions and harassment by authorities in 2023 to assert the people’s struggle for genuine freedom, justice, and democracy.

After the lifting of the pandemic lockdown, extractive activities resumed with a vengeance driven by corporate greed for profit. Large-scale mining and reclamation activities generated protests especially in gravely-affected communities.

In Sibuyan, Romblon residents formed a barricade to stop the entry of mining trucks. The militant protest continued despite the arrival of a police dispersal unit. The local resistance succeeded in forcing the national government to suspend and eventually cancel the permit granted to the Altai mining company.

The people’s barricade as a form of protest was adopted too by Palawan residents in Brooke’s Point to resist destructive mining operations.

Opposition against reclamation in Manila Bay featured coastal villagers and fisherfolk speaking out and mobilizing against the destruction of mangroves and marine habitats, and the displacement of residents from their homes. The anti-reclamation movement drew broad support from various stakeholders which sustained the clamor for the protection of the environment. This prompted President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr to issue a verbal order suspending reclamation in Manila Bay.

Youth activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano were among those who volunteered in Bataan to oppose the reclamation of Manila Bay. They were abducted by security forces and presented to the public as rebel surrenderers; but they bravely asserted the truth in a televised press conference and exposed the lies of their fascist captors. Their testimony instantly put into question the credibility of officials who previously paraded so-called “rebel-returnees.”

Jonila and Jhed were vilified by state trolls for telling the truth about their abduction but the malicious red-tagging failed to dampen public support for the two young environmentalists. Red-tagging remains an insidious policy and practice in the militarized bureaucracy but it has been consistently discredited as hate speech, disinformation, and a human rights violation.

In 2023, journalists and activists filed civil cases against notorious and recidivist red-taggers. Bayan leaders Carol Araullo and Teddy Casiño asserted in their petitions that red-tagging does not just undermine critical discourse but also endangers the life and security of its victims.

Act Teachers Partylist Rep France Castro filed the first criminal case against former President Rodrigo Duterte, who repeatedly threatened the opposition legislator in his TV show. Duterte and his army of trolls continued to attack Castro, but it only emboldened the Makabayan bloc to proceed with the legal pushback.

Like its predecessors, the Marcos government weaponized laws to criminalize activism and dissent. It filed absurd and baseless terror charges against church workers and paralegal activists. It included progressives and revolutionaries in the list of terrorists and criminally charged activists and artists for being part of the State of the Nation Address protest action.

These dubious cases have been challenged in the courts. Activists have engaged local government units to question the terrorist designation and to protect human rights defenders. Such harassment suits only revealed the tyrannical character of the Marcos government. More importantly, rather than discourage people from protesting, the legal repression agitated the public to be firm and more daring in countering the abuse of state power.

The Marcos government attempted to suppress the people’s demand for good governance and pro-Filipino leadership but failed to stop citizens from articulating the agenda of change. From Tinang farmers defending the right to till their land to Wyeth workers resisting lay-offs and union busting, and Masinloc fisherfolk and Cagayan residents opposing the intensified military exercises and expansion of US bases, they all underscored the validity of the people’s relentless struggle for real freedom and social justice.

An outstanding example of the justness of resistance was the transport strikes led by jeepney drivers and operators against the government’s anti-poor PUV modernization program. The strikes revealed the overwhelming public support for jeepney drivers on one hand, and outrage over the government’s corporate bias in resolving the transport crisis on the other. The collective action succeeded in extending the deadline for the consolidation of jeepney route franchises, led to the rejection of the planned phaseout of the traditional jeepney model, and reflected the demand for a Filipino-led manufacturing of transport vehicles.

Aside from the transport protests, the last quarter of 2023 saw the emergence of a solidarity movement organized by Filipinos to condemn the Israeli genocide in Palestine and the military support provided by the US government. The protests and peace marches from Manila to Cotabato called for a humanitarian ceasefire while activists highlighted the role of imperialist powers in enabling genocide in Palestine.

The year 2023 affirmed the significance of enjoining the people to voice out their demands and aspirations while battling the social evils that continue to plague the nation. Protests against the confidential funds and Maharlika investment fund signified public disgust against bureaucrat capitalism. The anti-imperialist struggle denounced the subservience of Marcos who has been shamelessly endorsing the geopolitical agenda of the US government. Anti-feudal mass actions were led by farmers and indigenous peoples fighting against landgrabbing, displacement and militarization.

In 2023, the incompetence, greed, puppetry, and brutality of Marcos exposed the bankrupt leadership of the elite. The worsening of the crisis of the semifeudal and semicolonial society and the tyranny of the regime has pushed the people to resist and carry forward the struggle for national democracy.⁩#

(Raymond Palatino is the current secretary general of BAYAN and a columnist for various online publications. He was a student leader and party list congressman representing the Kabataan Party List.)


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