MANILA – It was a serious cause with heavy political implications, but for dozens of activists, most of them in their senior years, if pursuing their advocacy against Charter change entailed taking to the dance floor, they’d have no qualms, whether because of shyness or the usual ailments and body pains from growing old.
Former DSWD secretary Judy Taguiwalo was among the protesters at the ‘Cha-cha laban sa Cha-cha’, a dance protest against Charter change at the UP Sunken Garden on Saturday (February 3) morning.
In this she was joined by former political prisoners, human rights advocates, martial law veterans, and progressive organizations headed by Karapatan and Selda. Expectedly, most of them were in their senior years, having been witness – and for most, victims – to some of the country’s darkest years in the seventies and eighties in a two-decade authoritarian rule that included nine years of martial law.
Explaining their crusade, Taguiwalo said that Charter change and federalism are not the answers to the people’s problems.
She explained that joining this protest meant pushing further an advocacy she had espoused even while still the DSWD secretary and shortly after her departure from Duterte’s cabinet.
“Mula’t sapul naman alam ko kaya nilagay ako sa gabinete, na bahagi ako ng progresibong hanay ng mamayan mula sa kaliwa, na ang tindig sa mga issue ay kritikal. Ang tanong ay para kanino ang mga hakbangin, para kaninö ang patakaran na ito, sino ang makikinabang, iyun ung tanong, hindi pa ang posisyon.”
[I knew early on I was placed in the Cabinet as part of the progressive bloc of left-leaning citizens, whose views on issues are critical. The question right now is: for whom are these steps toward Charter change beiong pursued? Who will benefit? That’s the question].
“Ang mahalaga para sa akin o sa mga kasamahan ko, kahit sa loob pa ako ng gabinete noon, ganyan ang tindig ko, hindi po ang posisyon ang mahalaga, kaya tumayo ako kaugnay sa libing ni Marcos sa libingan ng mga bayani; tumayo ako para sa dagdag na SSS pension; tumayo ako laban sa kontrakwalisasyon, tumayo ako laban sa dagdag na buwis sa TRAIN.
Nasa gabinete pa ako noon, hindi naman ako naging tahimik. E ngayon, wala na ako sa gabinete, balik ako sa hanay, nandito ako sa UP, nagtuturo ako at bahagi ako ngayon, nagdadagdag ako ng boses ko, sa boses ng mga organisasyon na mula’t sapul pa ay palaging tumitindig sa hanay ng taong bayan.”
[What is important to me and my comrades–way back then– was not so much the position but our stand on vital issues. That’s why I took a stand against Marcos’ burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani; I took a stand for higher SSS pensions; I was against contractualization; I opposed additional taxes under TRAIN. I wasn’t silent even when inside the Cabinet. What more now? I’m back here at UP, teaching and I’m adding my vooice to those of other organizations that have always stood up for the people].
PROLONGED HOLD ON POWER
At bottom, she said, Cha-cha is really a matter of who benefits. “If you study the proposals, the vital issues of land reform, or political dynasty are not there; but there’s something on the extension of term of office,. There are many urgent questions there in Cha-cha,” Taguiwalo added, speaking partly in Filipino.
It is obvious to her that some politicians just want to extend their hold on power even without an election.
“Sabay yan, ang federalism ay kailangan ng Charter change, ang charter change ginagamit para isulong ang pederalismo, pero malinaw naman sa atin na e alisin mo yan, e ang gusto ng mga politiko ay patuloy sila umupo kahit walang election.”
[Those go together: federalism needs Charter change and Charter change is being pushed to advance federalism. But strip it of those issues, and you see politicians wishing to stay in power without an election].
According to her, some jurists and constitutionalists, including former SC justices and even prime federalism advocate Senate President Nene Pimentel, are against Cha-cha. “[and it is clear, listening to the critics’ voices, these justices of the Supreme Court and even Sen. Nene Pimentel before, had a clear stand that Cha-cha cannot improve the lives of people].”
BASTION OF PRESS FREEDOM
The ex-DSWD chief weighed in as well on President Duterte’s recent remarks admonishing UP students not to keep walking out of classes to join rallies. Taguiwalo said that, “alam naman niya siguro, ang kasaysayan ay, hindi lang ng UP Diliman, sa kasaysayan ng bayan ay ang kasaysayan ng pagtindig ng mga estudyante laban sa mga katiwalian, laban sa paglabag sa karapatang pantao, di naman ito ngayon lang, panahon ko, First Quarter Storm, panahon ni Dr. Jose Rizal, mga kabataan din yun, kung sasabihin niya yun ay parang anti- sa mga estudyante, pero marami ngayong sa pakinabang ng mga estudyante, katulad ng student council at iba’t-ibang karapatan ay ipinaglaban nila sa panahon ng batas militar.”
“Sa tingin ko naman ay sinagot naman siya ng mga kabataan, hindi sila natatakot [I think the youths’ response is clear: they are not afraid].”
“Palagi nga sinasabi dito sa UP, kung hindi tayo kikilos, sino ang kikilos? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa? Yun ang patuloy…[They keep saying this in UP: if we don’t act, who will? If not now, when? That struggle goes on].”
“Panahon yan ng batas militar na naging produkto nyan ay People Power 1, itong Pebrero 25, hangang ngayon ay patuloy na bahagi ng estudyante na ang alam na edukasyon nila ay hindi lang sa loob ng mga silid ng paaralan, na marami matutunan sa pakikiisa sa mamayang pilipino.”
On the other hand, Cristina Palabay, Karapatan Secretary-General said in a press statement that “If the Duterte regime is inching the country closer to a full-fledged dictatorship to the tune of Cha-cha, the people will unhesitatingly dance to the tune of resistance.”
‘POLITICIANS WANT TO RAPE MOTHERLAND’
Former political prisoner Margine Nabia, 53, was just released in December 2017, and is happily reunited with her family, making up for the lost time since her arrest in 2008.
She came to the dance protest because she can’t stomach what is happening now. “The way I see it, it’s worse now–the people’s suffering, the many people being killed in the war on drugs, the EJKs, they continue. How can one stay quiet? I’m a mother who buys things, I see prices rising and the TRAIN tax reform will not help. For all their debates in the Senate and House, what will help people are giving them jobs, land reform and industrialization.”
She said the 1987 Constitution had many good things that could be legislated. Or sometimes the law is already there and it is not enforced. A change in the form of government is not the solution.”