Militants who helped sweep Joseph Estrada out of power and install Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo into the presidency marched toward Edsa Shrine to mark the third anniversary of People Power 2 Jan. 20. Blocked by contingents of police, they rallied in front of Camp Aguinaldo to decry the growing fascism and militarization under the present administration.
By Alexander Martin Remollino
It was by far a big, indignant crowd that massed up outside the gates of Camp Aguinaldo in the past three years.
Armed with streamers and banners, some 1,000 protesters composed of human rights and church groups, Muslims, peasants and fisherfolk, workers, women, youth, health workers, and artists marched to Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City – where the Department of National Defense and the general headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are located – 2 p.m. last Jan. 20 to protest against fascism under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, which exactly three years before had been swept into power by a people-power revolt against the Estrada government. In particular they condemned ongoing militarization in the Mindoro provinces.
The marchers were not able to get past the gates of Camp Aguinaldo, which were closed as they approached. They held a program by the gates as a contingent of policemen from nearby Camp Crame watched, ready with their truncheons and shields.
Teddy Casiño, newly-selected party-list nominee of the progressive Bayan Muna, addressing the defense establishment, said: “If human rights violations do not stop, you will not be able to prevent our comrades from joining the New People’s Army.”
The voice of Irein Cuasay, secretary-general of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog, was trembling with rage as she asked: “Why are you killing our comrades?”
Cuasay also made “special mention” of Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jr. “Bring Palparan to us!” Cuasay challenged the AFP. “Do not hide under GMA’s skirt!” she added, addressing herself to Palparan.
Palparan, who has recently been assigned to join the peacekeeping force in Iraq, has been accused as the main perpetrator of human rights violations in Oriental Mindoro, where he used to be commanding officer of government troops. Last year, Palparan was promoted while under investigation for his role in the abduction-killing of human rights leader Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy. Marcellana and Gumanoy were leading a fact-finding tasked with investigating human rights violations in the province.
Based on reports by human rights groups, Mindoro has become a killing fields of sorts under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. More than 30 civilians, most of them organizers of Bayan Muna, have been killed by government troops in the past three years in Mindoro. The military has often claimed that they were members of the New People’s Army killed in “legitimate” encounters.
Recently, military operations have been driving peasants and Mangyans out of their communities in the Mindoro provinces.
More than 140 persons have been summarily killed under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, most of them critics of government policies. Forty of them were members of Bayan Muna, while 10 were human rights workers.
There are also more than 300 political prisoners under the present administration.
The indignation rally in front of Camp Aguinaldo was part of a mobilization commemorating the third anniversary of the People Power 2 uprising.
At mid-morning that day, various groups under the banner of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and Bayan Muna had massed up in Cubao, intending to attend the noon mass at Edsa Shrine. They were however blocked by police in front of Camp Crame. Attempts at negotiation were in vain, even as Casiño stressed that there was an open invitation for people’s organizations to attend the noon mass at Edsa.
“It was in commemoration of the People Power uprising,” Casiño said of the Edsa Shrine celebration, “but unfortunately, the people were not there.”
Meanwhile, church people from Kairos Philippines and the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) also tried to attend the mass at Edsa shrine, but were blocked by police in front of the Securities and Exchange Commission building. They later decided to join the crowd at Camp Crame.
“We are very angry. We are disappointed. GMA has betrayed the spirit of EDSA and she has lied to us,” said Fr. Allan Arcebuche, PCPR spokesperson.
He decried the fact that even religious groups were prevented from joining the Edsa Shrine celebration. “We didn’t come to make trouble,” he said. “Those inside the Edsa Shrine know that.”
“Tagumpay ang Edsa, bigo kay Gloria! (Edsa succeeded, with Gloria we’re frustrated)” was the marchers’ rallying slogan.
Among the speakers at the rally were Casiño, Apolinario Alvarez, newly-selected party-list nominee of the Anak ng Bayan Youth Party; Amira Lidasan of the Suara Bangsamoro Party, Liza Maza, former Bayan Muna representative and presently a party-list nominee of the Gabriela Women’s Party; and Carmen Deunida, newly-selected party-list nominee of Anakpawis.
The marchers demanded the “disqualification” of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from the presidential race. “Three years of treachery is enough,” Casiño said.
Casiño criticized the failure of the Macapagal-Arroyo government to deliver on its promises of good governance. “They have the obligation to deliver on the promises of Edsa,” he said.
The People Power 2 uprising, which had its beginnings in mass campaigns for people’s issues and human rights in 1998, largely gravitated around the issue of corruption and plunder. Under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration however the Philippines came to be ranked as Asia’s second most corrupt country, based on a 2003 study by the anti-corruption group Transparency International.
The rally was a litany of grievances by various sectors against the incumbent president.
The speakers were united in saying that Macapagal-Arroyo is a servant of U.S. interests like her predecessor.
Deunida decried the acute lack of social services for the poor. It was also one of the issues carried forward in the anti-Estrada protests of 1999-2001, in which Deunida attained national prominence as an urban poor leader.
“If Erap is sin verguenza, Gloria is not only sin verguenza; she is also mujer ingrata!” Deunida cried.
Lidasan drew parallelisms between Estrada’s all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which hit several Muslim communities, and the Arroyo administration’s military campaign in Mindanao. She said that the Muslim population in the Philippines is experiencing a sense of outrage similar to what it felt during the Estrada regime.
“The Bangsamoro remain in solidarity with other sectors of the Filipino people,” Lidasan said, “whether in the hills, in the streets, or in Congress!”
Alvarez noted that the youth were among the most active in the campaign to oust Estrada, yet have not benefited from the Macapagal-Arroyo regime in any manner.
Data compiled by the office of Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo reveal a continuous decrease in the budget for education under the incumbent administration. Youth groups have also been targeted by human rights violations, with campus publications coming under censorship and other youth activists experiencing harassment. Late last year, four organizers of the Anak ng Bayan Youth Party were killed by government troops in Maco, Compostela Valley.
The build-up for the Jan. 20 rally had begun days before.
On Jan. 16, known personalities of the People Power 2 uprising gathered for a dinner at La Salle Greenhills School to commemorate the walk-out from the impeachment trial of former President Estrada and the noise barrage and prayer rally that followed exactly three years before.
On Jan. 16, 2001, Estrada had been in trial before an impeachment court for weeks for bribery, graft and corrupt practices, betrayal of the public trust, and culpable violation of the Constitution. The trial was sabotaged through a maneuver by his allies in the impeachment court, resulting in four days of broad protest at Edsa that culminated in a march to Mendiola and his subsequent ouster.
Among the personalities at the La Salle Greenhills dinner was Jose “Linggoy” Alcuaz, who launched the Silent Protest Movement in 1999. The first non-Left formation to call for Estrada’s ouster, the Silent Protest Movement distributed stickers with inverted exclamation points, which became widely popular. At the La Salle Greenhills dinner, Alcuaz distributed stickers bearing Macapagal-Arroyo’s initials (GMA) and inverted question marks, which became a hit among those who attended the event.