PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (Sona) was different in some ways, like he was confident enough to deviate from his prepared speech unlike many previous presidents. But one of the differences that really stood out was his government’s treatment of the rally led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). It obviously stemmed from the President’s effort to woo the revolutionary Left back to the peace process.

For the first time in decades, the militants were able to march near the Batasan complex where the Sona is traditionally held. There was no Duterte effigy and, consistent with what I reckon is their “critical collaboration” stance, the militants toned down the rhetoric, raising some concerns but recognizing the need to be friendly. This was reciprocated by the administration with a smiling Philippine National Police (PNP) Ronald de la Rosa visiting the rally site.

So the Left is now in an interesting period, with one foot in the government (Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, one of two Left personalities in the Duterte Cabinet, momentarily joined the rallyists) and another foot in the streets. It’s a difficult position because balancing collaboration with being critical is almost an impossible undertaking. Militants can’t be overly critical of the anti-people policies that the Duterte administration may pursue.

But this is one development that already has a precedence. In 2010, moderate cause-oriented (for lack of a better term) groups led by Akbayan forged an alliance with the Liberal Party (LP) of eventual president Benigno Aquino III and were swept into the government. Personalities like Risa Hontiveros (who ran for the Senate and lost) and Ronald Llamas were appointed to government posts, with Lllamas being allowed to whisper into the ears of Aquino as his political adviser.

Akbayan ended up toning down the rhetorics against the Aquino administration while militants led by Bayan (its leaders could not see-eye-to-eye with their moderate counterparts) jacked up their anti-government protests. Now that the revolutionary Left are the ones being coddled by government, expect the other Left factions and the moderates to take a more prominent role in the street protests.

It was essentially what happened in the Sona. While Bayan and its allied groups were in the Batasan, the Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (KPD) and its allied groups (KPD is a product of the rift within the revolutionary Left in the ‘90s) marched in protest against the increasing incidents of extrajudicial killings (EJK) under the Duterte administration and conducted a program in front of the Commission on Human Rights office.

Interestingly, the militants led by Bayan also carried the EJK issue in their rally but it was overshadowed by their generally friendly exchange with people in the Duterte administration. In KPD’s case, there was no other distraction. The focus was on the issue they raised.

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In one TV report about the rallies during the Sona, an interview of one of the student participants, Bea Reyno, caught my attention. The report said she was with the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP). The group is supposedly a later creation than the older militant group, the National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP). Watching Reyno articulate his thoughts brought me back to my student activism days.

So where is the student movement now? Can the golden periods (in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and then in the ‘80s) of student activism be ever conjured again?

(khanwens@gmail.com/ twitter: @khanwens)