MANILA - For the first time in over a decade, militant groups set foot in Malacanang, a feat that would have been unimaginable in previous administrations.
On Thursday, members of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) entered the Malacañang Palace to have a dialogue with the new president.
"Today, leaders of Bayan met with President Rodrigo Duterte at the Osmena Room in Malacanang to congratulate him on his inauguration and to submit to him the People's Agenda for Change which was drafted by the National People's Summit," Bayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes Jr. wrote on Facebook.
The leftist group has been at the forefront of protests, subjected to tense dispersals during rallies. They have also been barred from protesting in the vicinity of Malacanang Palace, often meeting barricades in the historic Mendiola.
According to Reyes, he, together with Elmer Labog of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Sarah Elago of Kabataan, Cristina Palabay of Karapatan, Christian Tuayon of Bayan Negros, Windel Bolinget from Cordillera People's Alliance, Diego Torres from Bayan Southern Tagalog, Eufemia Cullamat, Lumad from CARAGA, Liza Maza of P1NAS and Makabayan, and Antonio Flores of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), were fetched by the Presidential Security Group (PSG) while the rally in Mendiola was ongoing.
"There were no costume changes. We were in typical sweaty rally attire when we entered Malacanang, passing by the departing Palace guests who were dressed in their best formal wear," Reyes added.
The group was "warmly received" at the Osmena Room, where they discussed a wide range of issues with the new president, including those of contractualization, mining, ancestral lands, land reform, the release of political prisoners, health services, and education.
"He sympathized with the release of political prisoners on humanitarian grounds since he had seen similar cases in Davao before. He is studying the possibility of distributing 6 million hectares of public land to farmers. He is a firm believer of the principle of land to the tiller. He wants a review of existing laws on ancestral lands," Reyes said.
Reyes added that Duterte asked them if it was their first time inside Malacañang, given that they were usually barred from crossing the barricades.
"He asked us if this was our first time inside Malacanang. For most, it was. We told him how we are usually barred from crossing the barricades at Mendiola. He told us that he respects freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble," Reyes said.
Duterte also told the group that they will be allowed to rally closer to the Batasan during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA).
"I asked him if this meant that we can hold our SONA rally closer to Batasan. He said it shouldn't be a problem. Pwede raw makalapit," Reyes said.
The meeting between Bayan and Duterte lasted for 40 minutes. Duterte also posed with the group for photos.