By Genalyn Kabiling
One hundred twenty-two years after the country won its independence, President Duterte has called for a “united battle,” this time to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.
In his Independence Day message, the President urged the nation to emulate the courage of the country’s forefathers in fighting the viral outbreak.
“As we wage a united battle against COVID-19, we now have the opportunity to demonstrate that we possess the same gallantry of spirit and the nobility of character as the heroes of our past,” Duterte said.
“Let us now move forward with courage, hope, and optimism as we overcome this pandemic,” he added.
The President’s call for unity and optimism came as the country’s coronavirus cases soared to 24,175 as of June 11. The death toll has reached 1,036 while recoveries increased to 5,165.
The President was unable to physically attend the Independence Day ceremony at the Rizal Park amid the limitations on large gatherings during quarantine. Duterte was instead represented by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea during the simple flag-raising and wreath-laying ceremony at the Rizal Park in Manila aired on state television, PTV4. The President’s video message was played on a large television screen mounted at the venue.
The government task force on the coronavirus earlier ruled that only 10 people may attend the Independence Day rites at the Rizal Park. The Palace earlier said the President’s presence at the celebration might attract large crowds and break the safe distancing rule.
In his video message, the President paid tribute to the country’s forefathers for winning the nation’s liberty from foreign rule.
“I join all Filipinos in celebrating the 122nd anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine independence,” the President said.
“One hundred and twenty-two years years ago, our forefathers proudly proclaimed the birth of the Filipino nation. Today, we honor them for their bravery, heroism, and sacrifice, as well as we thank them for the gifts of democracy and freedom,” he said.
Dedicated to frontliners
This year’s Independence Day celebration carried the theme “Kalayaan 2020: Tungo sa Bansang Malaya, Nagbabayanihan, at Ligtas (Kalayaan 2020: Towards a Free, United, and Safe Nation).
Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso said this year’s commemoration of Independence Day is dedicated to the frontline workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Apart from Medialdea and Domagoso, Philippine Navy flag-officerin-command (FOIC) Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, Philippine Medical Association president Dr. Jose Santiago Jr., National Historical Commission of the Philippines chairman Rene Escalante, and Navy Captain Gregory Gerald Fabic attended the ceremony held at the monument of Dr. Jose Rizal in Luneta, Manila
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana likewise paid tribute to all frontliners who responded to the call of duty to protect the public from the deadly disease that has since claimed 1,036 lives in the country.
“Several times in our history, our country’s defenders heeded the call of patriotism and gallantly went to battle to unshackle our people from foreign conquest and ultimately secure our nation’s independence. Now, the same call for courage and self-sacrifice echoes in our land as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have bravely responded to the call, and dispensed their patriotic duties selflessly, and many have also paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Lorenzana said.
“This Independence Day, as we once again salute our heroes, our noble fighters of old who secured for us the freedom and liberties that we enjoy today, we also honor the valor of our frontliners in the battle against COVID-19 – our doctors, nurses, and other health workers, our soldiers and reservists, our civil defense workers, and the many others who put their lives on the line to deliver the basic supplies and services that our households and communities direly need,” he added.
As the country continues to battle the disease which the defense chief described as “treacherous adversary that remains unseen,” he called for unity and cooperation to help those serving in the frontlines keep the communities safe until a vaccine is developed.
“No matter how much harm the pandemic is bringing to our nation, we shall fight together and defeat it in the end just like our forebears who fought until our freedom has been won,” he said.
Zumba in Marikina, Mañanita in QC
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted cause-oriented groups to find new ways to stage a protest and exercise their freedom of expression amid the health crisis on Independence Day.
The Gabriela Women’s Party staged a flash zumba dance in Marikina City against the Anti-Terrorism bill they described as the “single biggest threat to Filipinos’ basic freedoms and civil liberties.”
Women leaders and their community members grooved and swayed to the music as they expressed their opposition to the controversial measure that would replace the existing Human Security Act of 2007.
“This is an expression of women’s collective stance to defend our hardfought freedoms and civil liberties, which the Duterte administration seeks to erase through the ‘state terror’ bill,” said Gabriela representative Arlene Brosas in a statement posted on the group’s official Facebook page.
“Pagpapakita ito na hindi magsasawalang kibo ang mga kababaihan sa harap ng napakasahol na krisis at pagpapabaya ng gobyerno sa harap ng pandemya (This shows that women are not going to be silent in the face of the crisis and government neglect amid the pandemic),” she added.
Photos shared by the group in its social media page showed at least 30 people wearing face masks joining the flash zumba dance holding small flags and a “Junk Terror Bill” letter cut-outs.
The program, which was a prelude to the bigger “Mañanita” event in Quezon City, reportedly lasted for four minutes and observed physical distancing.
Hundreds of people, mostly the youth, defied not only the quarantine protocols but also the gloomy weather as they marched through the streets of Quezon City before convening at the University of the Philippines – Diliman campus to stage what they called the “Grand Mañanita” protest on Friday, to commemorate the Philippines’ 122nd Independence Day.
Various progressive groups called for the abolition of the anti-terror bill, equal implementation of the law and intensified efforts to contain and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, among other issues.
. “There is nothing more urgent now than focusing on protecting the health and well-being of the people. Address the backlogs on testing, tracing and validation of cases, ensure support for relief and subsidies, and uphold freedom and democracy,” said Rep. Sarah Elago of Kabataan Partylist.
The protest had a birthday party theme, with attendees holding balloons and artistic placards bearing messages of dissent, while wearing party hats and colorful costumes. Several people were seen giving away food.
The “Grand Mañanita” is a takeoff of the birthday celebration of Metro Manila police chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas, who drew flak after allowing his men to celebrate his birthday amid prohibition of mass gathering. He defended the event, saying it was a “mañanita” or early morning celebration.
The UP gathering started at 10 a.m. ended before noon, with the patriotic song “Bayan Ko” being performed twice. The protest turned out generally peaceful, with no arrests made.
This came despite a warning from Quezon City Police Director Brig. Gen. Ronnie Montejo that they would be forced to make arrests if protesters would not disperse.
Police put up a checkpoint before entering the UP campus and refused entry to some who wanted to attend the gathering.
Among the personalities who attended the protest included activist Renato Reyes, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, former Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada, and Mae Paner. (With reports from Minka Klaudia Tiangco, Martin Sadongdong, Jhon Aldrin Casinas and Joseph Almer Pedrajas)