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Placard or Meme? As Rallies Brew, Palace Says Stay Home

Better stay at home says Malacanang.
by Joel Guinto
Jul 24, 2020
A protester carries a placard during a protest march at a university campus in Manila on June 4, 2020. Ted Aljibe, Agence France-Presse

For the twentieth SONA effigy of his long activist career, Renato Reyes said the rally centerpiece should be trashed in such way that COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are observed. He also tipped his hat to much younger counterparts who found a venue on social media -- through memes and posts that ignite conversation.

At a recent online news conference announcing a strictly physical distancing picket on President Rodrigo Duterte’s SONA on July 27, the veterans of the street parliament, their hair graying, ended the program with a spoken word performance from writer Juan Miguel Severo.

Severo, who has 339,000 Twitter followers, said anger should not be belittled. “Madaming bagay ang nagbago dahil sa galitdahil sa pinairal natin ang galit (Many things changed because of anger, because we let anger prevail). 

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque appealed to the protesters to go virtual in keeping with quarantine rules. "Para po sa ating mga sarili, para po sa ating mga anak, online protest po kung pupuwede (For our own sake, for the sake of our children, online protest if possible)."

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Anger and protest have transcended media. Placards painted in red have transformed into memes that are shared and re-shared on Twitter and FacebookIn the early 2000s, it was text messaging, that was when Reyes saw the burning of his first effigy as secretary-general of Bayan: A jack-in-the box of Gloria Arroyo. Swept to the presidency by the People Power II protests, Reyes said activists then were wary that the country’s leader could pull off surprises. 

Reyes told reportr activists on the street and online should not be pitted against each other. “Maganda siya (It’s good), every generation will find their voice.”

“Hindi sila bangga (they don’t counter each other),” Reyes said of street and online protests. “If we learned anything last June 12, after the Terror Law was signed, people feel it’s no longer enough to express yourself on social media. A lot of people are looking for a venue where they can gather and shout.”

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Reyes was referring to the Independence Day rally in UP Diliman wherein activists wearing face masks staged a “mananita,” a jab at the early morning birthday party of Metro Manila police chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas that allegedly violated quarantine protocols.

“The value of being physically there is you will be seen, we will be seen,” he said. Asked if he gets tired after decades of activism, Reyes said he has peers who had been at it during martial law in the 1970s. 

A protest veteran, Benedictine Nun Mary John Mananzan urged the public to tie red and black ribbons on the day of the SONA.

The policy speech, Duterte's penultimate, will focus on the way forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, Roque said earlier. Infections have rised sharply since the easing of nationwide lockdowns in June. On Thursday alone, 2,200 infections were confirmed bringing to total number of cases to nearly 75,000.

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