This post is part of our special coverage #Occupy Worldwide.
Protesters in the Philippines have attempted to ‘occupy’ the historic Mendiola Bridge near the Presidential Palace by staging a campout protest against budget cuts and poverty. Police used batons and water from fire trucks to violently disperse the assembly yet thousands continue to gather around Mendiola day after day to make a strong statement in front of President Noynoy Aquino's own doorsteps.
Six students were arrested but subsequently released after the flimsy charges filed against them by the police were dismissed by the prosecutor's office. Scores of other protesters have been critically injured by the brutal dispersals.
Prevented by the police from camping near the Palace, protesters put up tents in Plaza Miranda in Quiapo the first night, subsequently in Bustillos Church a block away from Mendiola, and most recently in the Liwasang Bonifacio shrine. Today, December 10, International Human Rights Day, is the last day of the campout protest.
The call for those who are “fed up with the status quo and united in a common hope for a better present and future” to “take action” and occupy Mendiola by more than 100 groups was first posted online on www.campoutph.com:
We can no longer stand a twisted social set-up that robs the majority of our people of a decent life and basic social services. We can no longer stand a social system that produces immense wealth for foreign interests and a few as the people, who toil all their lives, are increasingly pushed deeper into hunger, poverty and injustice.
Highlighting the theme “sawang-sawa na tayo (we are fed up),” the campout protest tackled a broad range of issues from the Aquino administration's budget cuts for education and social services, nonstop oil and basic commodities price hikes, land reform, migrant issues, urban poor demolitions, and persistent human rights violations.
Videos by student and youth leaders, academics, artists, activists, and other campout supporters expressing their disenchantment with the system and enjoining others to join the protest have also circulated online:
The people are fed up with poverty. All sectors of society have a responsibility to end this. I am Axel Pinpin as an activist of the peasant movement and a poet. Each one of us has a responsibility to continue to awaken the people about their real conditions. Everyone is invited to the people's campout which will start on December 6.
Hundreds of students from various state universities held various protest actions in the islands of Panay and Guimaras while almost a thousand students in Iloilo City braved the rain for a march-rally in solidarity with the Occupy Mendiola protests.
The Occupy Mendiola campout protest is inspired by the “Arab Spring” popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, the General Strikes in Europe, and the now global “Occupy” protest movement.
Fed up with the system
Student Regent Krissy Conti of the country's national university, the University of the Philippines, explains the historic significance of Mendiola as the campout site:
Mendiola, at the foot of the seat of political and economic power in the Philippines, has historically been a protest area. A campout in Mendiola against the prevailing system of government, like the Occupy movement in Wall Street against corporate greed, has the “power of place”. We were there last September, last May and the year before, in December. Why has President Aquino closed down the area to activists this time, permit or no permit?
Politika2013 pointed out the irony of the brutal dispersals a few days before human rights day:
But the police, in the name of security of the present Palace occupant, do not want protesters to exercise their democratic rights in Mendiola. So they blocked the marchers before they could even approach this symbol of the Filipino people‘s struggle for democracy.
This scene evoked memories of the dispersal of protest actions participated by the colleagues and supporters of Noynoy’s parents during the dark Marcos years from the early 70s to the 80s.
New Philippine Revolution criticized the violent dispersal as an expression of the Aquino administration's paranoia and total disregard of democratic precepts:
I don't see anything wrong with allowing students to encamp at Mendiola, spend their Christmas there or just literally make the entire bridge their home. Malacanang is several meters away. An encampment at Mendiola will not even affect security at the palace.
IN the UNited States, hundreds of thousand of people have been allowed to express themselves, hence, this creeping movement called Occupy Wall Street. In times like these, where people are hungry and millions more are jobless, suppressing these democratically protected actions are downright stupid.
Blogger Terry Ridon cites “5 reasons why you should join #campoutph”:
5. Your school budget has been cut. AGAIN. AND AGAIN… 4. You love riding the MRT and LRT… 3. Your father was a farmer. And your lolo was a farmer… 2. You/Mom/Dad/Bro/Sis/Everyone is an OFW… and 1. You feel that there is truly something wrong with the system.
A Radical's Nut counters the dismissals by the Aquino administration of the growing “Occupy” movement in the country:
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in October that there is no basis for a similar movement as the administration is “siding with the poorest of the poor”. Government, he said, strives for “inclusive growth”.
Nothing can be farther from the truth. In its December 6 editorial, the Philippine Daily Inquirer noted that the combined income of the richest 1% of the families (185,000) is equivalent to the poorest 30% (5.5 million). Aquino, like Arroyo, belongs to this 1% that monopolizes the country’s wealth.
Economic policies favor the ruling elite to which both Aquino and Arroyo belong. They use political power to prevent the redistribution of social wealth and accumulate more. The most glaring example is the Hacienda Luisita, which has been controlled by the family of the landlord President for more than half a century through deception and violence. Today, Aquino wants compensation from farmers his family has exploited to the hilt for decades before they can get the lands they have always owned.
This post is part of our special coverage #Occupy Worldwide.