By ANTHONY IAN CRUZ
March 1, 2008
DEFYING last-ditch scare tactics, a broad movement of groups seeking President Arroyo’s resignation yesterday mobilized tens of thousands of protesters at the interfaith rally at the Ninoy Aquino Monument in Makati City.
Organizers placed the crowd at 75,000 to 80,000. The police figure was 15,000.
Makati City Mayor and United Opposition president Jejomar Binay unleashed a minor political earthquake when he ended his opening remarks by calling on stage former Presidents Corazon Aquino, in her trademark yellow dress, and Joseph Estrada, in a red windbreaker.
Aquino and Estrada gave brief remarks before the crowd, in an apparent effort not to violate the agreed rally protocol that no politician would be allowed on stage, except for Binay who was tasked to deliver a welcome speech.
Aquino and Estrada sat beside each other on the makeshift stage.
Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said rally organizers saw the crowd peak at around 5 p.m., soon after marchers from various points in the country’s financial capital converged at Paseo de Roxas and Ayala avenue.
Reyes said the huge turnout represented “the strongest rejection yet of Mrs. Arroyo.”
“No single group or person claims credit in leading this initiative. No one is excluded and everybody, every group, made a contribution.
Mrs. Gloria Arroyo made this possible. Her bankrupt and corrupt regime provided the urgency for everyone to set aside their differences and struggle together for truth and justice,” Reyes said.
Priests in white cassocks recited the rosary, university students shouted “Fight for Truth” and office workers from nearby high-rise buildings sprinkled confetti.
“Goodbye Gloria” and “Kick Out Gloria, Change the System” were among the hundreds of placards held up.
In the interfaith portion of the rally, representatives of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the Philippines for Jesus Movement and Jesus is Lord Movement alternated prayers, reflections and stinging rebukes against Arroyo.
Hundreds of green balloons were released at the end of the program to signify “that we are sending prayers to God,” said Fr. Joe Dizon of Church-based group Solidarity Philippines.
As in the rally last February 15, more protesters applauded and responded when speakers, including bishops, pastors and priests, raised calls for President Arroyo’s resignation.
‘WE’LL BE WATCHING’
In lieu of “inspirational remarks,” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz led the protesters in shouting “Gloria resign!” several times.
Sister Mary John Mananzan, prioress of the OSB congregation in the Philippines and leader of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, drew applause for warning politicians aspiring to replace Arroyo that “we will watch you closely, make no mistake about it.”
“We’ve had had enough so expect the people to take action when necessary,” said Mananzan, who noted she was the only female religious onstage.
A big number of new faces joined the rally. The Catholic Education Association of the Philippines (CEAP) mobilized about 10,000 students from member schools, colleges and universities.
Leading the CEAP marchers was a throng of about 500 seminarians bearing an image of the Our Lady of Fatima.
Students from rival schools Ateneo and De La Salle marched together, along with those from Don Bosco in Manila, Mandaluyong and Makati; Adamson University; Sta. Isabel College, and Poveda.
Students from these schools waved placards and shouted slogans reflecting the calls of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines: “No to EO 464!,” and “Don’t suppress the truth!”
The newly formed student coalition Youth Act Now! mobilized about 5,000 students from UP Manila, UP Diliman, PUP, FEU, Technological Institute of the Philippines and other universities.
Youth Act Now! solicited photos from students and they were flashed on giant screens near the central stage. Student leader Vencer Crisostomo said it aimed “to show the voices and faces of people who demand the truth and accountability.”
Followers of Bro. Eddie Villanueva numbered about 10,000 and came mostly in yellow t-shirts, ribbons and caps.
Members of the Makati Business Club, led by executive director Alberto Lim, marched from the nearby Asian Institute of Management.
Faculty members of UP came in their “sablay,” the state university’s equivalent of the toga.
Also this time, the statue of slain senator Ninoy Aquino was not dressed up by flags. A placard was planted in his hands. “Gloria is evil,” it said.
Trade unionists from the Kilusang Mayo Uno carried hundreds of masks portraying the likeness of President Arroyo, but with horns, fangs and the word “evil.”
Latecomers include contingents from the Southern Tagalog region as well as two buses bearing students, faculty and administrators of De La Salle-Dasmariñas.
The Cavite-based La Sallians reported they were blocked at Daang Hari in Imus by a certain Col. Quilingen “for no apparent reason and without any traffic violation whatsoever” and were held for an hour before they were let go, according to La Sallian blogger Jhay Rocas.
Alphonse Rivera of the Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns said “Gloria stinks!” He led about 200 kids in a march that paraded a “roleta” (roulette) showing the various means to force out Arroyo from office: oust, resign, out or impeach.
Also mobilizing but in smaller numbers were the Black and White Movement, Akbayan, Sanlakas and Laban ng Masa.
Vendors reported brisk sales of barbequed squid, mineral water and rally paraphernalia, especially t-shirts and pins bearing photos and quotations of star witness Rodolfo Noel “Jun” Lozada.
Performers included The Wuds and The Jerks, and new rap artist Peter Parker who drummed up interest among the predominantly youth crowd.
In a statement sent from his outpost in far-away Utrecht, The Netherlands, exiled Communist Party of the Philippines founding chair Jose Maria Sison said “the magnitude of the protest mass actions today (will) indicate how close is the end of the Arroyo regime.”
“If the level of 50,000 to 100,000 protest demonstrators is reached at the focal point in the national capital region, then we can hope that in the near future we can reach the level of hundreds of thousands or a million demonstrators that will certainly persuade the bureaucracy and the military to withdraw support from the Arroyo regime,” Sison said. – With Reuters