MANILA - Scores of demonstrators on Monday morning gathered inside UP Diliman campus in Quezon City for a protest action ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte's penultimate report to the country.
Various groups spanning different sectors joined forces to denounce the policies of Duterte, who is scheduled to deliver his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the House rostrum.
The scorching weather and risk of arrest didn't deter rallyists from airing their grievances against the President in a demonstration billed as "SONAgKAISA." They also wore masks and observed physical distancing amid fears of COVID-19 spread.
Days before Duterte's annual address, the government has banned public protest as part of its response to the global pandemic.
While police officers blocked a portion of Commonwealth Ave., protesters marched on University Ave. and held placards and signs assailing the government's failed public health response to the coronavirus crisis, enactment of the controversial anti-terror law and shutdown of ABS-CBN, the country's biggest media conglomerate.
Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno criticized the government's seemingly misplaced priorities in the face of a public health crisis.
Instead of dealing with the economic fallout of COVID-19, Duterte supporters are pushing for constitutional amendments to revive charter change.
"Ang cha-cha kailangan pa ba nilang pag-usapan 'yan? Ang dapat nilang isayaw ay ang katotohanan. Ang dapat nilang isayaw ay katarungan," Diokno said in his speech.
To date, the number of coronavirus infection in the Philippines has breached 80,000, making it the second country in Southeast Asia with most COVID-19 cases. The country's unemployment rate also rose to record-high 17.7 percent in April, which translates to 7.3 million jobless Filipinos.
Other groups also slammed the signing into law of a new counterterrorism measure, which broadens definition of terrorism and grants state forces expanded powers, which some legal experts have warned as dangerous and unconstitutional.
Veteran journalist Ces Drilon also blasted the government's move to force ABS-CBN off the air by denying the network a fresh franchise in a decision made by a House committee, which is heavily controlled by the President's allies.
"Kami ay biktima ng isang mapaniil na administrasyon," she said, adding the media company has been cleared by various regulatory agencies during the lower house's lengthy hearing for ABS-CBN's franchise.
The shuttering of the top broadcaster's free TV and radio operations, Drilon said, also threatens other media companies.
Without a franchise and losing at least P35 million daily, ABS-CBN was forced to lay off thousands of workers, including top journalist Drilon, effective Aug. 31.