Demonstrators, hunger strikers demand change in Philippines

Demonstrators, hunger strikers demand change in Philippines

Thousands of people took to the streets and political detainees went on a hunger strike in the Philippines Monday to demand that President Benigno Aquino III implement real reforms to fight poverty and stop human rights abuses, dpa reported.

More than 8,000 police officers and soldiers were also deployed around Manila ahead of Aquino's key policy speech before Congress later Monday.

The president was expected to report on the progress of his reform agenda and anti-corruption campaign as well as outline a strategy and vision for the country9s future, according to his aides.

"It's not going to be about the past; it9s about the future," Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said. "The president will tell us what he wants the Philippines to become."

Demonstrators massed on the streets 1.5 kilometres from the sprawling compound of the House of Representatives, where the president was to deliver his second state of the nation address before the joint session of Congress.

They paraded a 4-metre effigy of Aquino as they lamented that his administration has so far failed to make a difference in the lives of ordinary Filipinos, especially the poor.

Prices of food, electricity, fuel and other basic commodities have been going up since Aquino became president in June 2010.

Danilo Ramos, secretary general of the Peasant Movement of the Philippines, said the protesters expect Aquino "to cloak the real state of the nation with empty rhetoric."

"But he can never hide the fact that inequality and injustice exist and have worsened under his administration," Ramos added.

In jails throughout the country, at least 115 alleged political prisoners and detainees escalated their fasting to a hunger strike on Monday to demand their freedom and call on Aquino to take steps to improve the country9s human rights record, according to Task Force Detainees of the Philippines.

The group said there are 319 people serving jail sentences or detained awaiting trial across the country for their political beliefs.

Emmanuel Amistad, the group9s executive director, said the detainees were worried that Aquino "has no time and attention for human rights violations victims" after failing to help a sick inmate who died on July 15.

"Aquino has been in office for one year and he has repeated so many times his single-minded determination to pursue corruption cases against the former administration but not a vision or a roadmap for our future based on human rights and justice," he said.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, the president9s most senior aide, urged the public to support Aquino9s blueprint for development that seeks to improve the lives of Filipinos.

"The president has made it clear that while we have made gains in our efforts to address the concerns of our people, we all have to work together to ensure the fulfillment of the president's vision of a government that puts our countrymen's welfare first," he said.

Ochoa said the administration was determined to be a government "will govern conscientiously, use its resources wisely, provide jobs and economic opportunities for our people, protect the environment, and secure our borders."

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