Various forces and sectors, even strange bedfellows, came together this week for a unified cause – to force what they said was a bogus president to step down from power.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
In a crowd of more than 10,000 gathered in front of the Sto. Domingo Church, Quezon City on June 24, Juanito Reyes took a breather under the pink and blue steel overpass along Quezon Avenue. At 86, the old man was one of the warm bodies who trooped to the streets that day for a unity march of various sectors and opposition forces demanding that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) step down from Malacañang.
The country’s chief executive has been in hot water the past weeks on allegations of fraud when tapes of her alleged wiretapped conversations with Commission on Election (Comelec) Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano surfaced June 6. The conversation allegedly occurred during the canvassing of votes in June last year with the president’s voice captured telling the election official to ensure her a one-million-vote lead over closest rival, Fernando Poe Jr., an actor-turned-politician, now deceased.
“Matanda na ako, hindi na ako dapat naglalakad ng ganito” (I’m too old, I should not be marching like this) Manong (old man) Juanito said. “Pero kaya ko pa naman” (But I can still manage), he added as the march was about to start.
Manong Juanito was at the Sto. Domingo Church 12 noon and took a quick lunch in his grandson’s house in a nearby street. He went back to the crowd before Fr. Joe Dizon, initiator of the election watchdog Patriots, would lead an ecumenical mass atop of a 10-by-10 flat truck that served as the protest action’s mobile stage. Dizon, an activist-priest, started his involvement in the mass movement during martial law.
Wearing an old kurduroy hat, brown pants, rubber slippers and a white shirt printed with an almost faded face of Poe, Manong Juanito said this is his third time to join a campaign to oust a Philippine president. The first was in 1986 when a people’s uprising overthrew the Marcos dictatorship and the second was in 2001 when the people ousted Joseph Estrada from Malacañang on allegations of corruption and involvement in the illegal numbers game, jueteng.
A native of San Carlos, Pangasinan, he said he was a distant relative of Poe who hailed from the same town. Asked why Macapagal-Arroyo should heed the people’s call for her to step down, he said the president has done nothing to alleviate the poverty of the masses. “Lalo pa tayong naghihirap ngayon” (We’re getting more miserable these days), he said.
As the emcee signaled the start of the march to Liwasang Bonifacio (LB) in Manila – about 3 kms away – the now famous “Hello, Garci” mobile phone ring tones started to play over the giant sound systems. There were around nine versions of the tones played throughout the march, the most notable of which was that with a Michael Jackson song entitled “Smooth Criminal” as background music.
“Hanay lang tayo mga kasama, sampu-sampu!” (Let’s line up, comrades, 10 in a row). As the rally marshals instructed the crowd to close their ranks, Mang Juanito tried to find his companions and slowly melted into the crowd that has swelled to more than 20,000.
Among the veterans in the crowd were Margarita Seta, 83, and Juanita Sason, 76, both from a Bayan Muna (People First, a party-list group) community in Camarin, Novaliches. Shielding themselves from the heat of the sun with an umbrella, the two old women tried to run to keep pace with the march. Aling Nely, 49, a neighbor and Bayan Muna member, played nanny to the two. “Kelangan alalayan, baka sila madapa” (I should lend them a hand lest they fall on their knees), she said, to which Aling (old woman) Juanita replied, “Di bale, sanay naman. Nandun din kami nuon sa Edsa” (Never mind, we’re used to this. We were in Edsa) – referring to Epifanio delos Santos Avenue where the people gathered for the people’s uprising in 1986 and 2001.