Global Justice Tour 2013 – July 22: People’s SONA rally

In cooperation with Canadian and Filipino trade unions, the Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (OCHRP) sent 3 people as part of a 12–person human rights delegation to the Philippines in July 2013. Members of the delegation participated in exposure missions to sites of repression and resistance in the archipelago, visiting locations where gross human rights violations have occurred and actions opposing water privatization activities take place. They also attended the three-day International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines, which gathered “human rights defenders and peace advocates from around the world, aimed at deepening our understanding of the current state of human rights and peace in the Philippines.”

OCHRP and its partners, including CUPE National, CUPE 4600, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers – Philippines (ACT), and the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), first started a Global Justice Project in 2009 in order to build ties and understanding of shared struggles among workers in Canada and the Philippines. As Phase Five of this ongoing initiative, the tour in July further strengthens the solidarity movement and support for Filipino human rights advocacy and action among Canadians.

July 22, 2013

International solidarity at the SONA rally

July 22, 2013

Filipino President Benigno Aquino III’s fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) was delivered in Manila on July 22, 2013, but the Global Justice Tour delegation was not present to see it live. Instead, they were part of an approximately 100-member foreign contingent of the SONA demonstration aimed at revealing the true state of the nation and its people. The contingent, composed largely of the 200 human rights advocates and researchers in attendance at the preceding International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines, served to demonstrate to the government and people of the Philippines that an international community is present as witness and defender against injustice in the country.

SONA rally police 2

Police barricades on Commonwealth Avenue

A clash with police at the forefront of the rally, which saw up to an estimated 20,000 participants, left over 40 protesters and 21 police officers wounded, as well as ten protesters arrested. One of the international delegates, Dutch activist Thomas van Beersum, was detained, deported, and blacklisted by the Bureau of Immigration (BI) for his visible – yet non-violent – involvement in the rally and the confrontation with police. The BI’s justification for his blacklisting included alleged violation of the terms of his tourist visa and engagement in partisan political activity. Rights groups such as the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and Human Rights Watch condemned this reaction, with NUPL secretary general Edre Olalia commenting,

His [Van Beersum] blacklisting is more a resounding indictment of the government and its claims to democracy than it is of his zealous yet moral outrage over issues that should make us and our society more fair and human. (Ronalyn V. Olea, “Rights groups condemn deportation, blacklisting of Dutch activist,”, 08 August 2013)


COURAGE President Ferdinand Gaite delivers his scathing speech on the current government’s performance

The demonstration was barred from proceeding by large barricades seven kilometers from the president’s speech. At this point, organizers, including Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and other allied organizations, set up a stage where they began their planned program. Using song, dance, pantomime, and speeches, several progressive organizations and peoples’ groups demonstrated their views on the true state of the nation. As has been an annual SONA tradition, the program culminated in the burning of a large effigy of President Aquino, an act which symbolizes the people’s disappointment in the current administration.

President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III effigy

Analysts have criticized the president’s speech itself for its failure to address the worsening problems of poverty, unemployment, and wealth inequality. As’s Benjie Oliveros noted,

Clearly, the Aquino government is intent on pursuing the same neoliberal policies that have increased the burden of the Filipino people and have fostered greater inequalities. Well, as President Aquino has repeatedly insinuated throughout his speech, those who are not able to take advantage of the opportunities being opened up by the government are the ones to be left out. With the way it is running the government, that would mean majority of the Filipino people. (“Policies outlined in President Aquino’s 4th SONA add to people’s burdens,” 26 July 2013)

Additional SONA analysis: Ronalyn V. Olea and Marya Salamat, “’Long and winding SONA silent on what matters most to Filipinos’ – progressive groups,”, 23 July 2013


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About Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines

The Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (OCHRP) is an activist human rights network of women, workers, church people, students and migrant Filipinos that promotes awareness of human rights issues concerning the Philippines and the situations of overseas workers from the Philippines in Canada.

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