By Joseph Almer Pedrajas
Protesters from various groups – many of them youth organizations – gathered in different parts of Metro Manila Friday, September 20, and then marched to the Quirino Grandstand at Luneta Park Friday afternoon, expressing a strong “Never again,” at the eve of the 47th anniversary of the declaration of martial law.
By late afternoon the cries of “Never again to martial law!” became louder with the crowd increasing to an estimated 5,000 people.
Martial law was declared by the late former President Marcos on September 21, 1972.
At Mendiola, Manila, at least 13 progressive groups gathered at 1 p.m., amid the shouts of “Never again, no to martial law!”
Police estimated the crowd to be about 600 protesters.
Members of the Defend Southern Tagalog, one of the organizations at the Mendiola rally, who mostly came from CALABARZON and Bicol regions, held placards declaring their sentiments and photos of seven women, said to be Gabriela members who went missing after President Marcos declared martial law in 1972.
Former Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño, who addressed the crowd at Mendiola, spoke on the problems of Filipino workers, citing contractualization which is still being practiced now.
“Filipino workers are being taken advantage of. They don’t have job security and bargaining liberty with their employers,” Casiño told Manila Bulletin in an interview.
Meanwhile, Pido Gonzales, 75, a member of PAMALAKAYA, from Gumaca, Quezon had joined the rally despite being on a wheelchair. He said he was an activist during martial law, who had survived the threat of being jailed while his friends went missing.
“I may have lost the physical strength but I still have the strength in spirit,” Gonzales said,
Another speaker, University of the Philippines (UP) Faculty Regent Ramon Guillermo, commented on the presence of the police and military in several universities in the country.
While we coordinate with the police and the military [to address the presence of the communists in universities], we must also uphold the academic freedom to talk about the issues that may help students in their studies, Guillermo said in Filipino.
Meanwhile, in other places in Metro Manila, various universities—including UP, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP)—also held their own assembly before proceeding to Luneta Park.
By 3 p.m., protesters started arriving at the Quirino Grandstand. They were from various sectors –farmers, workers, women advocates, youth, health workers, education sector workers, students, human rights defenders, and members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transexual (LGBT) community. Members of the Lumad Tribe were also present.
Some of the speakers at the Luneta Park were St. Scholastica’s Sister Mary John Mananzan, Satur Ocampo, human rights lawyer and former Representative Neri Colmenares, and political prisoners.
They shared their experiences during martial law.
While some speakers expressed their objection to the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), Colmenares commented on the proposed martial law subject.
“I hope that [teachers] would be factual in their teaching,” he said.
Other well-known human rights advocates who were at the United People’s Action protest were Samira Gutoc, Chel Diokno, and former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
The Manila Police District said they deployed some 1,500 officers at Luneta for the gathering of the various groups.