Mobilizations start for ‘People’s SONA’

Stop lying to the public, militants urge Arroyo

By Abigail Kwok
First Posted 09:25:00 07/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines – As militant groups prepare for the massive rally at Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City on Monday afternoon to counter President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s opening speech in Congress, groups want to send one message clear to Arroyo: stop lying.

Aside from calling for the President’s ouster, groups want Arroyo to tell the truth, and the truth, said the group Bayan (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, New Patriotic Alliance), was that the Arroyo government was “fooling” the people.

As of posting time, around 15,000 protesters from various militant groups led by Bayan have started marching from Tandang Sora toward Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City. Groups were expected to arrive at the rally site at around 10 a.m., where they would hold a program until the President would deliver her address.

Groups marched to the rally area carrying the 21-foot effigy of Arroyo “abandoning” the country, symbolized by a sinking ship, inspired by the capsizing of the MV Princess of the Stars last June.

Militant groups called on Arroyo to stop the “festival of lies,” and to bring “immediate economic relief to the country.”

Youth groups also staged classroom walkouts and headed to Tandang Sora before heading to Commonwealth Avenue. Participating schools include University of the Philippines, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, University of Santo Tomas, Adamson University, De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila University, Miriam College, and Arellano University, among others.

Cities across the country have also vowed to participate in the protest.

Reyes said mass actions have already started in Baguio City, Southern Tagalog, Bicol and Caraga regions, and the cities of Cebu, Davao and Bacolod.

In Cebu, members of Bayan are expected to gather at Fuente Osmena Circle before marching towards the Gaisano Mall. In Davao, protesters will march towards Rizal Park and will a hold a protest action followed by a concert.

Protest actions in US, Canada, and Australia have also been set, said Reyes.

Regional transport strikes are set on Tuesday in the Bicol provinces of Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay and Sorsogon.

In a statement, Reyes said claims that the value-added tax (VAT) had benefited the poor was nothing but a “blatant lie.”

“Before Arroyo sings praises to the VAT during her SONA, we urge everyone to take a look at the hard facts that the government is not telling us. The Arroyo government is taking more from the poor than it is giving back,” Reyes said.

On Friday, Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde said the President would reiterate anew how the VAT had been essential in funding the government’s pro-poor projects during her address.

But in its recent study, Bayan said the VAT collections obtained from electricity have been bigger than what was being distributed through subsidies.

“Meralco has an estimated 1.7 million lifeline users. The government will spend P852 million for the one-time subsidies for Meralco lifeliners. But the national government may have collected as much as P1.8 billion in VAT from Meralco’s lifeline customers alone or one billion pesos more than the actual subsidy given,” Reyes said.

The group studied the monthly electric bills and rate schedules of Meralco lifeline consumers over a 32-month period. Findings from the group revealed that the subsidies came from the lifeline consumers themselves, with the government earning extra.

“Facts are stubborn things, and with these data, we can see that the government has been fooling the people into thinking that they benefited from the VAT. The bitter truth is that lifeline consumers have been paying more in terms of VAT than they are getting in terms of subsidies,” said Reyes.

The group also scoffed at the supposed “social welfare programs,” which Arroyo would focus on during her speech.

“Arroyo is responsible for plunging millions of Filipinos deeper into poverty through such policies as depressed wages, high taxes and the deregulation of vital industries such as oil and power. She is responsible for aggravating rural poverty by her failure to implement genuine land reform. From the government’s own reckoning, about a third of the population live below the poverty line,” Reyes said.

Meanwhile, Akbayan partylist Representative Rissa Hontiveros has vowed to boycott the President’s speech, saying Arroyo will be delivering a speech likened to “instant noodles.”

“Instant noodles – flavorful, cheap, but nutrition-wise empty – have become the staple food for millions of Filipinos. This summarizes the economic achievement of the Arroyo administration. This also symbolizes the failure of the government’s anti-poverty programs,” Hontiveros said.

The lawmaker said she expected nothing but “empty boasts and promises” from Arroyo, because “as in the previous SONAs, it would be too much to expect anything substantial beyond the projects that she would commit to deliver for her allies in Congress.”

Hontiveros also called on Arroyo to tell the truth and to come up with practical solutions to the economic crisis.

“The solutions to the economic crisis requires political will. It entails hurting her own cronies, a matter that she is not willing to risk due to persistent questions on her legitimacy,” she added.


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