Kadamay unfairly blamed for Sitio San Roque protest, group and supporters say

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Kadamay unfairly blamed for Sitio San Roque protest, group and supporters say
This photo taken on March 18, 2020 shows a mother washing her laundry outside her home along the river in Manila. Asian nations have imposed increasingly heavy measures to fight the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the Philippines has ordered half its population of some 110 million to stay home.
AFP / Maria Tan

MANILA, Philippines — A protest on April 1 that led to the arrest of 20 people in Sitio San Roque in Barangay Bagong Pag-asa in Quezon City has been blamed on urban poor group Kadamay (Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap), with even President Rodrigo Duterte mentioning them in a televised speech on Wednesday night. 

The president said the group was encouraging people to violate the law. He added there would be no mercy for them if they are arrested for "causing chaos."

"Kayong mga Kadamay, hindi — walang, wala nang awa-awa. Diyan na kayo. Ang nahuli, wala. I will not tolerate ‘yang sabihin mo na bitawan mga politiko, bitawan," the chief executive said in his prerecorded address. 

(You Kadamay, no... there will be no mercy. You will stay there if you are arrested. I will not tolerate it even if politicians say you should be released.)

But an initial police report on the incident said that  Jocy Lopez of the Samahan Ng Magkakapitbahayang North Triangle Association (SAMANA) led the protest.

The same report said that all 20 of the arrested rallyists were part of SAMANA, which the police erroneously said was "also known as" Kadamay. 

SAMANA and Kadamay are two different groups, although a report on GMA News' "24 Oras" said that Lopez was previously a member of Kadamay, which has members who are also residents of Sitio San Roque. 

Though some of those arrested were members of both SAMANA and Kadamay, both groups said the protest was unplanned.

Nanoy Rafael of the Save San Roque alliance told Philstar.com in a text message that Kadamay did not organize the protest even though it has members among those arrested.

"No involvement at all. We were busy at that time organizing a community kitchen. You can ask the members themselves," he said. 

Kadamay has also said that no group was behind the protest. 

In an online exchange with Philstar.com, Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes also said the umbrella group of national democratic activist organizations checked whether the urban poor organization was behind the incident.

"We asked Kadamay. The organization that the protesters were in was SAMANA. You can ask Kadamay," he said, adding the city government had revised an initial statement attributing the protest to Kadamay.

"One or two [members] went along because of word that there was relief," Rafael of the Save San Roque alliance added in Filipino. 

This is corroborated by a report by alternative news website Pinoy Weekly, which found that word had spread in the community that food aid would be distributed that day. Pinoy Weekly, in the same article, also reported on distribution of food aid, including handfuls of dried fish, later that day by a party-list group.

"The one Kadamay member who was among those arrested just so happened to stop by after he came from picking up his 13th month pay," Rafael also said.

Acknowledging the financial burden that the Luzon quarantine will have on laborers, Duterte has appealed to employers to release the 13th month pay of their workers.

RELATED: Duterte urges early release of 13th month pay as coronavirus-related job losses loom

In an interview with Philstar.com on Wednesdy, Weng Macatao, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte's chief of staff, said the protest had stemmed from a "miscommunication."

In its statement on the incident, the Quezon City government said residents had been misinformed by an unknown person that food packs would be distributed to them that morning. 

'A natural reaction'

Although Kadamay says it did not organize the protest, it released a statement after the arrest of the 20, saying the spontaneous protest was a natural reaction to the lack of government support for the poor.

READ: CHR: Arresting the hungry does not address their problems

"Instead of listening to the requests of the poor suffering without government support, they chose to arrest ... them," Kadamay chairperson Gloria Arellano said in Filipino.

"We can't avoid this outburst of anger from the masses if the administration continues to employ militarization instead of social safety nets."

Other members of the Save San Roque alliance, which works with the urban poor community, also disputed online reports claiming that Kadamay was responsible for the protest.

In his speech Wednesday, Duterte said he would allow security personnel to shoot anyone found to be disrupting the enhanced community quarantine by holding similar protests. 

In an interview on CNN Philippines on Thursday morning, Local Government Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya acknowledged that the protesters had raised legitimate issues. 

"The government has heard their pleas," he said.

Malaya insisted, however, that the group, which the government has more than once accused of being a front for communist rebels, was behind the Sitio San Roque protest.

"We now see the agenda, there's a political agenda to agitate and mobilize the people. Let's put [that] into perspective," he said.

Athough mass gatherings, including protests, are banned while Luzon is on community quarantine, protesting, expressing dissent, or being a member of an activist group is not the same thing as being a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines or of the New People's Army. 

"The lack of urgent and sustained relief from the national government is forcing the urban poor to go out and look for food or for a source of livelihood," Rafael said. 

"That's why meeting them with violence and arrests was not right."

RELATED: Health workers walk to work, sleep in clinics as quarantine halts transportation | Social distancing's victims: In a Luzon quarantine, the disabled are mostly forgotten

As of this writing, there are currently 2,633 confirmed patients of the new pathogen in the country. Hundreds of new cases have been detected daily since last week.

The United Nations warned the international community that the "whole of humanity" was put at risk by the novel coronavirus, saying millions could die if collective action is not taken. 

"For in a time when the entire world has stopped, the struggle of the marginalized does not, and social distancing could very well be the last problem of someone with an empty stomach," Save San Roque said. — with reports from James Relativo

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