By John Tria
The September 21 “day of protest” went by without being the vaunted and hyped up showdown of much larger crowds against government that the President’s detractors hoped it would be.
Despite the date declared a holiday for government workers and schools, recent controversies and a long time to prepare and organize, the numbers that many of the government’s detractors hoped would swell to new highs barely approximated the protests mounted against the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Of course, propaganda websites and social media pages tout the Luneta protest to have reached the Libingan protest crowd of 30,000, but news photos of the event don’t seem to affirm the claim.
The effect of the outcome shows that the issues raised by those opposing government saw little traction in the general public, that basically remained detached from their multifarious advocacies. We were all expecting a crowd of at least 100,000, with some even claiming to double that. Unfortunately, they are stuck with the same small crowds.
Where else they are wrong:
Their message is confused, with a mix emanating from a spectrum of speakers and perspectives. Some groups call for a stop to the drug war while others simply want alternative methods of dealing with drug users.
The resulting variety cannot sustain a movement, as it may even turn off many when the message is often interpreted as one that inadvertently helps support the illegal drug industry!
Credibility of the detractor’s principals is low, with Liberal Party politicians linked to the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Project (DAP), one a principal drug suspect seen as “epals” not worth their time.
By themselves, the opposition groups already are a confused lot. Throw in left-leaning groups and these variances and confusion are amplified.
Over-all, with all the opportunities given, the lack of a strong core message that resonates with majority and credible proponents after more than 13 months of the new government is a setback for the political opposition.
Contrary to expectations, everyone was egged on to give their best move, yet even this didn’t get them that far.
Protest day and the Mindanao experience
The concept of a national day of protest draws heavily from the unique experience of Mindanao, where a plurality of political and cultural voices colors the social atmosphere.
There, protest and other forms of political expression are not the monopoly of any one, or pair of actors. Enter the public squares of Cagayan de Oro, Davao and Iligan to understand this. Non-government groups of various colors, some even competing with each other often take the stage.
If we were to view the Maute phenomenon in Marawi, for example, Mindanaoans see the phenomenon not as a simple conflict between government and rebels that can be mediated by what Manila-based and foreign “peace and conflict” experts in the cottage industry of peacemaking, and the usual armchair pundits propose.
Mindanaoans see many facets that feed on each other to create a complex phenomenon requiring a detailed set of solutions. The road to getting those things may be long, fraught with compromise, needing patience and consensus.
With this, protest actions are welcomed and taken in stride, public parks even allocated for the purpose. But the larger need to build common solutions and sustain cooperative efforts is something all political actors and groups, regardless of color, understand and accept. After the rally, its often back to the working group to hammer out solutions- with government.
Thus, in Mindanao’s experience, protest has its place, but consensus occupies a higher position. Moving forward, perhaps this wisdom be considered by all groups.