How Filipinos and GMA marked 20th year of People Power

In a clearly desperate strategy to stop attempts of disgruntled soldiers and policemen to join the broad nationwide movement seeking her ouster, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo today put the country under a “state of national emergency” and launched barefaced fascist attacks on Filipinos’ rights and freedoms.

From the wee hours of the morning, Arroyo was in a flurry of meetings with her henchmen in the cabinet and the military-police establishment, scampering to contain a reported “expression of protest” by rebellious military elements.

Their next actions were ominous: Arroyo ordered that Malacañang Palace be turned into a garrison, with dozens of container vans placed across streets leading to the presidential residence and office. Troops and tanks were moved to the Palace and in the major camps in Metro Manila. Tens of thousands of police and military personnel were deployed in traditional rally sites, including the People Power Monument and the Edsa Shrine.

By mid-morning, police prevented Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez and Catholic nuns from praying the rosary at the monument.

By noontime, police used truncheons, batons and a water cannon against a peaceful convergence at the Edsa Shrine. The protesters included Vice President Teofisto Guingona and dozens of known stalwarts of the anti-Marcos resistance like Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo, Anakpawis Representative Crispin Beltran and urban poor leader Nanay Mameng Deunida.

In a clear violation of laws, many policemen brandished high-powered weapons while some wore no nameplates. While negotiations went on between Vice President Guingona and the ground commander Col. Velasquez, a fascist brute could be seen egging the anti-riot police to attack the protesters who were in a defensive position.

A policeman tried to use a water cannon on protesters and the leaders who were on top of the stage but was single-handedly stopped by the heroic Neri Colmenares, the people’s lawyer and convenor of the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties.

With a handful sustaining head injuries from the baton-wielding anti-riot troops and a good number getting separated from their groups, this 15,000-strong contingent of the Gloria Step Down Movement nevertheless preserved its ranks and marched to Ortigas corner Santolan in San Juan in order to wait for the Laban ng Masa who were at that time marching from Cubao.

At the head of march were film director Carlitos Siguion Reyna, civil libertarian RC Constantino and leaders of GSM member-organizations: Bayan’s Dr. Carol Araullo and Renato Reyes Jr., Bayan Muna Reps. Teddy Casiño and Satur Ocampo, KMU’s Bong Labog and Lito Ustarez, Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza, Gabriela leaders Lana Linaban and Emmi de Jesus, Youth DARE spokesperson Raymond Palatino, LFS chair Vencer Crisostomo, Danilo Ramos of KMP, Anakpawis Reps. Rafael Mariano and Crispin Beltran, and a host of others.

By the time we started to take the long march from San Juan to Makati through secondary streets, we received reports that the Laban ng Masa march had been crushed by anti-riot police, with their leaders arrested and detained.

The march was long and hard. We were under the scorching heat of the sun for four hours, and had to contend with street blockades put up by Arroyo’s loyal police. As we were about to cross Shaw Blvd. to Nueve de Pebrero, Mandaluyong police tried but failed to block us. The alert rally command structure managed to get through by taking the opposite lane. The hapless Mandaluyong police forces were no match to a movement that had 40 years of experience in street demonstrations and marches.

We arrived at Ayala exhausted but fulfilled. The diabolical attempt by Arroyo to crush all the separate but coordinated marches did not succeed.

But it turned out that the Mandaluyong police was a bit better than those who were deployed in Makati to counteract the mammoth prayer rally called by Mrs. Corazon Aquino. The anti-riot police at Ayala were a pathetic bunch. Two police phalanxes blocked the way leading to Paseo de Roxas, in an obvious effort to separate the yellow army of Mrs. Arroyo and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, and the predominantly red activist block of Bayan and GSM.

GSM and Bayan did not bite the police bait for a clash. Instead, women activist leaders faced the women police officers who were lined up to face the GSM and Bayan marchers. Minutes later, Gabriela went to the police line and sang for the women police officers.

Soon after the Cory-Binay group arrived, the Makati mayor confronted the police phalanxes, punctured it and paved the way to the entry of the GSM and Bayan marchers, and the merging of the two groups. Remnants of the dispersed Laban ng Masa march also came with their party colors. Also seen were dozens from Bro. Eddie Villanueva’s Bangon Pilipinas. Senators and members of Congress were also there.

There was no makeshift stage at the Ninoy monument at Ayala cor. Paseo de Roxas. The rally program was done at the foot of the monument, emceed by Chito Gascon.

Vice President Teofisto Guingona led the battery of fiery speakers, followed by Satur Ocampo and several others. Prayers and songs were offered. Catholics prayed the rosary, Bro. Eddie prayed for the born-again communities, and two Muslims recited supplications to Allah.

By around 7:30 pm, the program was winding down, with the GSM and Bayan contingents preparing for an organized dispersal. But the police had other things in mind: Hundreds, if not thousands, of anti-riot police started pushing and shoving the protesters from Paseo de Roxas to the MRT-Ayala station.

This is how the people, through their commemorative actions and protests, and Arroyo, through her proclamation of a state of emergency, marked the 20th anniversary of the first People Power uprising that ousted the Marcos dictatorship.

Photo courtesy of Associated Press/Vincent Yu

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