United People’s State of the Philippines Address in Washington D.C. defies Duterte and Secret Service

There is a rumor that Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte “doesn’t do mornings.” This must be why he schedules all his press releases for the afternoon and keeps his staff in meetings until the wee hours of the night. Then he will spend the rest of his night watching gangster movies until he falls asleep. These are only rumors, of course.

But it might be why, as Philippines news outlet Rappler reports, he used seven expletives during his State of the Nation Address on the morning of July 22 — which is actually less than the twenty five he used last year. It could also be why he ended his address saying that he was tired and unhappy with the presidency, and would welcome a military coup. 

Perhaps more troubling was when Duterte begged Congress to reinstate the death penalty to help him win the drug war. Of course, we know this would make his extrajudicial killings judicial, and allow him to avoid accountability in the forthcoming U.N. investigation.

If you can imagine the outrage of the Filipino people at this display, then you can imagine the tenor at the People’s State of the Nation Address (PSONA) in Washington, D.C. The sun shone hot — with temperatures reaching above 100°F — and hot ran the blood, too. 

Monday, July 22, started in front of Trump’s White House, where several Pakistani political groups were gathered, some of them hostile to each other to the point of shouting matches. But as more Filipinos gathered, the Secret Service, seemingly overwhelmed at the number of people, shut down the street in front of the White House. Shortly after, they shut down the entirety of Lafayette Park. But the PSONA crowd held their ground on H Street.

Speakers from the Malaya Movement, Bayan USA, Migrante USA and Gabriela USA, among others, gave speeches to directly counter Duterte’s State of the Nation Address. While Duterte tried to explain away bureaucratic inefficiency by blaming individual leaders, PSONA speakers identified that the whole system of government, by and for big landlords and comprador capitalists, cannot provide for the needs of the people.

With chants of “Tama na! Sobra na! People power na!” (“Enough already! It’s too much already! People power now!”) everyone marched through D.C. to the Philippines Embassy. There, we gathered to hear more talks, as well as a street performance, which included a huge papier mache Duterte, which the performers ripped down from the stage. Cultural groups played revolutionary Filipino songs throughout the day. Andre Powell of the Baltimore People’s Power Assembly gave a solidarity statement, wishing victory to the National Democratic Movement.

Eventually, D.C. police and the Secret Service started to itch and wanted everyone to clear out. But, instead of ending the demonstration, the people defied the state: they marched across the street to the Philippine Embassy’s annex and occupied its front lawn. The embassy staff–representatives of Duterte’s fascist regime–promptly shut down its operations for the day. Despite Secret Service attempts to disperse the crowd, they stayed to chant: “Tama na! Sobra na! Oust Duterte now!” 

For many Filipinos who attended PSONA, this was their first interaction with the Malaya Movement and the associated Philippines organizations. Despite the heat, PSONA raised their spirits, and surely, it would not be their last time beneath the Malaya banner. Satisfied with the victory of shutting down the annex and a huge, well-organized demonstration and march, the crowd finally dispersed and ensured everyone made it to their transportation safely. 

Check out Malaya Movement to watch for updates.