In the Front Line

Historic rally to oust Macapagal-Arroyo takes off

The tortuous step toward replacing a discredited president began on June 24 when about 20,000 people held a rally at Welcome Rotunda, the entry point to Manila. For many others however the challenge goes beyond presidential succession, i.e., to build a new government that will truly represent the democratic interests of the people.

By Bobby Tuazon

The tortuous step toward replacing a discredited president began on June 24 when about 20,000 people held a rally at Welcome Rotunda, the entry point to Manila. For many others however the challenge goes beyond presidential succession, i.e., to build a new government that will truly represent the democratic interests of the people.

The rally marked the National Day of Protest which also saw similar protest rallies in Hong Kong, the United States, Canada and other countries.

Coinciding with the 400th founding anniversary of Manila and the Feast of St. John the Baptist, the rally was held as Congress began its inquiry into charges hurled that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had cheated in the May 2004 presidential race and that she received financial support from a jueteng lord when she ran for vice president in 1998. (Jueteng is an age-old illegal numbers game.)

Among other reasons, the charges have sent her popularity rating plunging to the lowest among the presidents since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986.

The rallyers were led by the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) and its allied organizations, groups belonging to the newly-formed United Opposition, pro-Estrada forces, PDP-Laban-Makati as well as a number of Moro organizations. Rebuffed by the Catholic hierarchy in holding a mass inside the Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City, the rallyers instead assembled outside the church gates at 1 p.m. along Quezon Avenue where a brief cultural program and an ecumenical prayer were held.

The rally-march stopped all traffic headed for Quiapo, Manila’s central district and checkpoint. Weather appeared to have cooperated as heavy rains fell only at the end of the four-hour demonstration. Many of the participants were also veterans of the two people’s uprisings in 1986 and 2001 that toppled two presidents.

Expose the truth

Priests led by Fr. Joe Dizon and nuns who officiated the prayer atop a truck festooned with a huge streamer, “Ilantad ang katotohanan, kamtin ang katarungan” (expose the truth, obtain justice) asked God to help ferret out the truth in the wiretapping scandal. They also called for the President to step down immediately.

The members of the clergy together with mass leaders let fly white and red balloons symbolizing “truth” and a “new beginning” before rallyers prepared to march for Liwasang (plaza) Bonifacio in Manila.

Carrying flags, streamers that screamed “Oust Gloria” and themselves carrying “Hello, Garci, goodbye Gloria” placards and stickers, the protesters began marching toward the rally site in Manila – some 3 kms away – only to be stopped, as anticipated, at the approach to Welcome Rotunda by a phalanx of some 1,000 riot policemen, SWAT men armed with high-powered rifles and firetrucks. The police included contingents from Central Luzon, said to be the bailiwick of Macapagal-Arroyo. The police commander from the Central Police District said they received their orders from Malacañang.

Several hundreds more policemen and soldiers were strategically posted along España all the way to the Don Chino Roces Bridge at the dead end of which lie the gates of the Malacañang presidential palace. The palace itself was on red alert with armored personnel carriers (APCs) and tanks on standby inside.

Vice mayor

Some protesters were itching to push forward but Bayan and Bayan Muna organizers decided to hold the main rally at that point. In a brief speech later, Manila’s grey-haired vice mayor Danny Lacuna who joined the rally let loose his anger at the police for blocking the marchers’ way to his own jurisdiction and even preventing him from walking toward his own residence which is just a few meters away. This, he boomed, was a violation of the right to peaceful assembly and free movement.

Speaker after speaker took turns calling Macapagal-Arroyo an “illegitimate president” for cheating in the last elections even as she continued to pursue policies inimical to the people’s interests. Party-list Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said the taped conversation between the President and Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano proves beyond doubt that Macapagal-Arroyo stole the presidency but the final verdict on her accountability forcing to leave Malacañang will be done by the people themselves in the street parliament and not by Congress.

Movie actor Rez Cortez recited a poem and, aptly, called the national day of protest – which coincided with the proclamation of Macapagal-Arroyo as president last year – as ushering in a “new day.”

To the cheers of thousands, Carmen “Nanay Mameng” Deunida, well-known urban poor leader, minced no words calling the President “mandaraya,” “manloloko” and “magnanakaw” (cheater, liar and thief) as she urged the crowd to remain united and firm in building a new society. She also called her a “tsunano” (a small tsunami).

The young emcees kept the rallyers in high spirits and energy under the blistering heat and drizzle with their chants of “Gloria Arroyo, pekeng pangulo; pekeng pangulo, pabagsakin sa pwesto!” (Gloria Arroyo, fake president; fake president, force her out). The now-popular Gloria ringtone were also replayed and replayed all throughout.

Unlike Oust-Estrada

As evident in the June 24 rally, the new Oust-Gloria campaign appears to be unlike the Oust-Estrada movement which began with mass protests by militant groups calling for the former president’s resignation amid a series of scandals and charges of illegal gambling pay-offs, transforming itself into a wave of gigantic wave of multisectoral protests that ended with his ouster in January 2001. This time, the opening salvo of the new campaign – held only four years after Estrada’s fall – already began with a consortium of various political forces and shades including a bloc of traditional opposition politicians participating.

Reacting to the June 24 rallyers, Macapagal-Arroyo said she will not resign and called her detractors “economic saboteurs.” Critics have scored her for foisting an “undeclared martial law” for blocking anti-government rallies and threatening to charge those calling for her to resign with sedition and rebellion.

Meanwhile, calls for her to resign have gathered momentum with other legislators and presidential claimants, some of whom were her former allies, calling for a snap presidential election. Joining the call last Friday was former Sen. Raul Roco, Macapagal-Arroyo’s former education secretary and also presidential aspirant, who also offered himself for any future role. Former President Corazon Aquino characteristically asked for the nation to pray.

Luminous in the political horizon is the option for forming a transition coalition council that will craft a new government and it is quite visibly gaining acceptance among more and more Filipinos. A Bayan handout expresses this view:

“More Filipinos are suggesting the formation of a ‘transition council’ composed of various forces and sectors who uphold democratic and nationalist principles. Important is the representation in the council by democratic, patriotic and progressive forces who will implement pro-people programs such as national industrialization, genuine land reform, wage increase, resumption of peace talks and so on. The council will pave the way for electing a new government. The people shall be assured of their democratic choice for the new president.” Bulatlat

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