Manila – Carrying placards bearing anti-martial law catchphrases alongside new slogans, activists, leftists, politicians, church leaders, academics and students marched to the Rizal Park to protest what they see as President Rodrigo Duterte's authoritarian and abusive governance similar to that of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The gathering at the capital's biggest urban park was the central mass action for Sept. 21, the day Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, as Filipinos opposed to the current government staged weeklong protests and rallies all over the country to mark the 45th anniversary of the declaration of martial law, which they remember as repressive.
As the president announced the day as a vague "no-work, no-classes, non-holiday National Day of Protest," pro-Duterte followers also mounted their own rallies, the biggest one at the Plaza Miranda in front of the Quiapo church, another city landmark, to express their support for his administration.
Opposition leaders led by Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo, whom Duterte ousted from his Cabinet due to her vocal stance against the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug addicts and dealers in the drug war that he sanctioned, warned in a statement that “If we do not remember the past, we are condemned to repeat it. Sadly those who are deceived do not even know that they are walking a doomed path.”
Robredo, who attended the protest actions, said young Filipinos should "recognize the signs of the rising tyranny” in the Duterte presidency and learn about what occurred in the past so that they understand why all these events are happening and why the past's dark years should not happen again.
Some of the placards read "Block Marcos" which is the name of an organization opposed to Duterte's threats to declare martial law nationwide, as he has already declared, and extended through his supporters in Congress, martial law in Mindanao after extremists supported by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sieged Marawi City, the center of Islam in the southern island.
The crowd chanted slogans that demanded freedom and democracy and a stop to police abuse and killings. They also sang protest songs including a Tagalog version of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" a song from the musical "Les Miserables" about a student uprising in Paris that wanted to overthrow the government.
"Never again; never forget," a slogan that reminds Filipinos young and old of the atrocities done during the brutal 20-year regime of Marcos that included nine years of martial rule, was prominent among many placards alongside "Stop the killings," "No to martial law" and "Don’t forget, bagets (young people)."
The protesters wore black to symbolize the darkness of the current situation of the country and the darkness that the country could descend into if it is put once again under martial rule. Reports of protests in other areas in the Philippines were widely reported and shared in the news media and on social media, but the gathering in Manila was estimated to be over 15,000.
Duterte's anti-drug campaign, in which police have reportedly killed more than 3,000 suspected drug dealers and users but critics say could be more than 12,000 and still rising, has been at the heart of Filipinos' protests since he assumed office in June 2016, as well as the human rights abuses under his watch.
The President's close relationship with the Marcoses is also an issue after he approved a hero's burial for the late dictator in November last year that also sparked a massive protest from the population blindsided by his decision.
Critics of his authoritarian tendencies also called attention to his influence in Congress that wants to impeach the Supreme Court justice and just recently defunded the Commission on Human Rights but reportedly gave back the independent body's intended budget for 2018 after strong protests on social media.
Many other events were held until the end of that week, including workshops on activism, a "millennial throwback" as a learning venue for young Filipinos about their country's past, a "brats meet-up" for young people, youth mobilizations by various colleges and universities, spoken word performances and prayer rallies from such new groups as iDefend, TindigPilipinas (Rise Philippines) and Movement against Tyranny.
Diana Mendoza is a freelance journalist based in Manila. She wrote for the Manila Chronicle, Today, and Inter Press Service. She also worked as a media consultant for the Commission on Population and the Asian Development Bank.