Leaving a dusky and rainy weekend behind, the IPON Negros team happily goes into another week in Bacolod. The sun seems to have awaken from its temporary lethargy and an aura of sunny peace and tranquility has been surrounding the routine in our neighbourhood from very early hours.
For us three, as a brand-new team in Negros Occidental, every Monday is accompanied by the excitement and expectations of new events and activities to come: contacts being forged among the Task Force Mapalad (TFM) Hacienda farmers’ representatives, old cases from former teams being relived and reviewed and discussions raised on potential projects to be launched during the next months.
But today’s Monday is not one like any other.
Today, President Benigno S. Aquino III is holding his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) since him entering his role back in May 2010. The SONA is mandated by the 1987 Constitution and is an annual address by the President of the Republic of the Philippines to the Filipinos through a Joint session of the Congress of the Philippines. The speech is being held today at 2pm in the Batasang Pambansa Complex in Quezon, the same venue where Corazón Aquino, the mother of the current President, held her first SONA upon the re-establishment of the Congress in 1987.
From the perspective of our mature and well-established European democracies, this annual event may be seen as a mere occasion for the government to highlight its achievements and leave aside any performance failures since last July 2012. However, the overall feeling here in the Philippines today is far different from such a view. There are great expectations and hopes connected to today’s SONA as Aquino is facing a much more demanding audience, eager to obtain palpable results of his numerous promises. Unlike previous SONAs of his presidential term, a standard discourse shaped and tinged by the good intentions after the take-over from the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration will not suffice.
One of this demanding social actors is our partner organization TFM, whose next steps and actions, including a possible protest march in Manila in August (s. our blog entry “Promised Land”) are closely dependent upon the attention paid today by Aquino to land issues and the effective implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Programme (CARP, Republic Act NO. 6657 as amended by RA 7881, 7905, 8532 and 9700).
But not only will the speech this afternoon affect TFM’s objectives and priorities and thus indirectly IPON’s agenda in Negros: a protest rally against the SONA and the Aquino government itself has been organized by different filipino and foreign human Rights non-government organizations, community and advocate groups concerned about the human rights situation in the country, all of them coordinated under the umbrella of the global network International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (ICHRPP).
Human rights violations are expected to constitute one of the issues addressed by the President today, reacting to the demands of these groups for accountability of state crimes such as extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance commited mainly by the military and other state security forces during the previous decade. This, together with the desire for freedom for political prisoners and a stop on militarization of rural communities should require a direct approach by Aquino to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) during his speech today.
As the day moves forward into noon, our expectancy and hopes, too, increase on this regular Monday morning. We look forward to offer you an update, upon delivery by the President, as soon as the speech is available in English.