NAGA CITY, 22July2013 – Thousands of youth and students joined the multisectoral SONA ng Bayan protest held along Commonwealth Avenue in time for President Benigno Aquino III’s fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA).
Brandishing giant banners bearing the call “Tama na ang tatlong taon ng panlilinlang, pambubusabos at pagpapakatuta,” (Three years is enough! Enough with the lies! Enough with the oppression! Enough with the puppetry!), and “Noynoy minion” mascots depicting Aquino as a US lapdog, the youth and students marched from Tandang Sora to Sandiganbayan on July 22, along with thousands from other sectors, including women, teachers, peasants, and farmers.
Simultaneous protests have also been held in various provinces, including Cebu, Negros, and Davao.
“In Aquino’s SONA today, we will not be surprised if he again brandishes his administration’s so-called achievements in pushing for inclusive growth. But these words will ring hollow to millions of Filipinos who never felt the ‘growth’ that Aquino is talking about,” said Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon.
“Three years into the Aquino presidency, the same problems remain – and even worsened. Millions of families continue to be mired in poverty, while millions of youth are unable to enroll due to financial constraints. Thus the youth tags Aquino ineligible to govern for the remaining years of his term,” Ridon added.
‘All price hikes’
While flaunting a largely populist anti-corruption front, Aquino was not able to translate his words into concrete deeds, Ridon said.
“The price of basic commodities is at record-high levels. Oil price hikes have become a regular occurrence. Skyrocketing tuition remains. And now, the price of basic utilities like water, power, and transportation are also bound to go up,” Ridon said.
Last June, the Commission on Higher Education approved tuition hikes in 354 colleges and universities nationwide, despite the complaints raised by student groups regarding unjustified fee increases and bogus fee hike consultations.
Meanwhile, Metro Manila’s two private water distributors Maynilad Water Services Inc. and Manila Water Co. Inc. proposed rate hikes of P8.58 per cubic meter and P5.83 per cubic meter, respectively. When additional charges are applied, this fee hike translates to an additional P234 to P342 charge for households consuming an average of 30 cubic meters a month.
Recently, Meralco also announced that it will increase the generation charge by 22 centavos per kilowatt-hour this month, after suffering “losses” due to the May 8 power outage in Luzon. MRT and LRT fares are also set to increase in the coming months.
“Aquino has unequivocally supported all these price hikes even if it entails added burden to the common citizen. In his statements and pronouncements, he has staunchly supported the cause of big business, never mind the fact that it would aggravate the people’s situation. This shows how insensitive Aquino is to the plight of the Filipino people,” Ridon remarked.
A turn for the worse
Aquino even fared worse than former President Gloria Arroyo in addressing the unemployment crisis in the country, government statistics show.
In April 2010 – the waning months of the decade-long Arroyo regime – the National Statistics Office (NSO) reported that the number of unemployed Filipinos was estimated at 3.1 million, with youngsters aged 15 to 24 comprising one in every two unemployed persons.
Despite reported growths in the economy, particularly the Gross Domestic Product, official government figures reveal that Aquino fared even worse than Arroyo. Earlier this month, NSO revealed that in the April 2013 Labor Force Survey, the number of unemployed Filipinos has climbed to more than 4.8 million – half of which are young Filipinos aged 15-24 – with the economy losing jobs mainly in the agriculture sector.
“Throughout his term as president, Aquino has manipulated data and hyped up economic achievements to hide the fact that his regime is faring even worse than his predecessor. But now, the figures are speaking for themselves,” Ridon said.
“This is the result of decades-old policies that prioritize foreign investment and heavily rely on international demand for cheap labor, rather than investing on national industries that can generate jobs domestically,” he added.
“Aquino must be delusional if he thinks that all that matters are credit rating upgrades and high Stock Exchange indexes. The youth has had enough of Aquino’s empty rhetoric of change. It’s time to go Mr. President,” Ridon concluded.