MANILA - Immediately after President Rodrigo Duterte finished his second State of the Nation Address, thousands of demonstrators who had braved the afternoon heat and the sudden drizzle outside the Batasang Pambansa received an unexpected announcement: the President himself was coming out to meet them.
True enough, Duterte went up the "People's SONA" stage on IBP Road, just 900 meters away from the House of Representatives where the President had just finished addressing the nation.
The protesters who appeared surprised by the announcement immediately started chanting slogans against the President. "Never again, never again, never again to martial law! Peace talks, ituloy! Peace talks, ituloy!"
Duterte stood still for a while, looking at the crowd. He then put his right index finger on his nose and then pointed at himself, urging the protesters to stop the noise and let him speak.
"Tumahimik muna kayo."
The President told the protesters he understood their issues and that he was doing his best to address these. However, he also expressed disappointment with the New People's Army attack on a Presidential Security Group (PSG) convoy in Arakan, North Cotabato last week.
"Meron kayong issue, naiintindihan ko. Alam niyo ang posisyon ko. Alam niyo din na ginagawa ko ang lahat. Hindi ko sinasabi na tinatalikuran ko 'yan [peace talks] e kaso pati ako ina-ambush niyo. Ano'ng klase 'to? Walang ganyanan!" he said as the chants got louder.
Duterte quickly changed topic and explained why he had to extend martial law in Mindanao.
He told the crowd he needed more time to quell the Maute terrorists in Marawi City because the group was still holding hostage 300 civilians. He also emphasized that military rule in the island was "not forever."
"'Yan na lang ang naiwang problema ko diyan na hindi ninyo alam. Bigyan niyo ako ng panahon. Isang taon pa lang ako na Presidente ninyo, bakit ninyo ako ganunin?" he said.
The President continued explaining his side on different issues, saying the protesters should talk to leftist members of his Cabinet so they would see that he was working on their issues like land reform, labor contractualization or "endo," and more.
A CALL FOR RESPECT
Duterte emphasized that he was a President for the poor and not for the rich. Protesters, however, responded with a chorus of: "Ooooooow?"
The President then said he would not talk anymore if he would be be treated with disrespect.
"Kung ganun ang [trato] niyo sa 'kin, parang kalaban, huwag na tayo mag-usap... Kung may 'di kayo gusto sa akin, sabihin niyo sa akin sa Malacañang. P***** i**, pinapapasok ko kayo lahat doon," he said angrily.
The President spoke before the crowd for about 15 minutes even as protesters interrupted him with their chants.
"Ayaw niyo magrespeto? Sige bahala kayo. Sigaw kayo hanggang maubos ang boses niyo," Duterte said before passing the microphone to one of his security personnel who quickly covered him.
Thousands jeered the president as he made his way off the stage.
Supt. Guillermo Eleazar, Quezon City police director (QCPD), said an estimated 16,500 people joined rallies during the 2nd SONA.
Eleazar told ABS-CBN News that the President's decision to face the protesters was a "security nightmare."
"Biglang dumating 'yung PSG, hinahanap ako ako. Binanggit na bago nga mag-SONA binanggit ng President na pagkatapos nga ng SONA, may intensiyon siyang pumunta doon. Talagang security nightmare 'yun," he said.
The QCPD chief said the protests went peacefully despite Duterte's arrival not just because they were ready, but also because the leftists stuck to their agreement before the SONA.
"May confidence-building e. May trust," Eleazar said.
This year's protests also saw a shift in tone, an angrier one compared to last year's overall optimistic vibe. Renato Reyes of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said they wanted to challenge Duterte to fulfill the promises he made in his first SONA.
Protesters brought various effigies with them, including one that looked like a giant octopus symbolically controlling key government agencies.
They also destroyed an effigy depicting Duterte as Hitler after the President faced them outside the Batasang Pambansa. They were not able to burn the other effigies due to the rain.
The Quezon City police did not record any untoward incidents in the protests.
The police earlier said it had deployed 6,300 cops while the military deployed 300 soldiers to secure the SONA. Police officers were not allowed to bring guns, shields or batons.
NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE
After the President's visit to the "People's SONA" stage, former party-list lawmaker Teddy Casiño took to the stage and asked the people if their evening had been good. "Hindi! (No!)" the crowd shouted.
Casiño said the President was unable to answer point-by-point some of the important social issues that protesters brought up during the rally.
However, he also gave the President credit for facing the militant left's SONA rally, which he said, was never done by his predecessors.
Casiño also said there was still a chance the President would continue peace talks with communist insurgents.
"Siya ay may kaunti pang pagbukas at maaari pang matuloy ang peace talks. Hindi niya sinabing hindi na tuloy ang peace talks. Ang sabi niya, magrespetuhan," Casiño said.
"From what we saw, it would appear that he is not closing the doors. If he is indeed willing to continue talking, we are willing to continue engaging," added Reyes.
REACTIONS FROM THE CROWD
Despite the optimistic statements from Casiño and Reyes, a lot of demonstrators could not hide their disappointment over the wasted opportunity for a meaningful dialogue.
"Wala! Kahit kalahati, wala talagang nasagot [sa mga hinaing namin]! Okay naman na humarap sa amin pero wala namang matuwid na sinagot," Rudy Opking, a Lumad from Surigao del Sur, told ABS-CBN News after the rally.
The Lumad of Mindanao were among those at the forefront of the SONA protests, carrying anti-martial law placards. They said, because of martial law in Mindanao, some schools of the Lumad children were linked to the communists and were forcibly closed.
Duterte, in a press conference after facing the people outside Batasang Pambansa, threatened to bomb these schools, saying they were violating laws for spreading subversive ideas.
"Hindi maiwasan ng mga mamamayan, lalo na ng kabataan na mag-react, lalo na nung naririnig namin na kabalintunaan na naman 'yung mga sinasabi niya," added a Bayan Southern Tagalog youth leader, reacting to Duterte's demand for respect.
Meanwhile, vendor Randy Castulo, who was able to sell all his "bopis" during the rally, said he thinks some people just do not understand the manner by which Duterte speaks to them.
"Gusto lang din kasi ni Duterte, respeto. Alam ko 'yan kasi Bisaya 'yan, Bisaya rin ako e," he said, as he watched the protesters disperse.
"Pero hindi naman lahat [ng issue] nasagot. Puro 'yung sa Mindanao lang ang na-explain," countered Patricio Leonor, another vendor.