Proof that democracy is dead in this country, some 100 police officers barred lawyers from going ahead with their motorcade in Manila. The Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL) was supposed to serve an eviction notice to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Malacañang Palace.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
The dictionary defines motorcade as a “procession or parade of motor vehicles.” However, lawyers, paralegals and law students belonging to the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL) recently found that members of the Western Police District (WPD) have their own definition of the word. For the police, a motorcade should have waving artists and beauty queens.
In the morning of July 22, CODAL held a 10-vehicle motorcade starting from the Quezon City Memorial Circle (QCMC). The group was joined by former National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) chief Roy Señeres, former Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Commissioner Nasser Marohomsalic and former National Amnesty Commission (NAC) head Fatima Remedios Balbin, all of whom are lawyers by profession. Señeres was one of the first government officials to call for the president’s resignation
With their vehicles bedecked with blue and white buntings and placards that bore calls for the president’s resignation, the lawyers planned to proceed to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) office in Intramuros, Manila to issue a symbolic warrant of arrest to former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.
Garcillano has repeatedly denied that his was the voice in the allegedly wiretapped conversation with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo which is now publicly known as the “Hello, Garci” tapes. The conversation contained discussions about rigging the outcome of the May 2004 elections in favor of the President.
Aside from the Comelec office, the motorcade was to go to the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation (BID) to issue a symbolic hold departure order to Macapagal-Arroyo and Garcillano. The activity would have ended at the gates of Malacañang where CODAL was supposed to issue a symbolic notice of eviction to the President.
But these did not happen. About 100 police officers from the WPD and the Regional Special Action Force (RSAF) stopped the motorcade in front of the Welcome Rotonda, the boundary between Quezon City and Manila.
Where’s the beauty queen?
Both clad in white barong (a native suit), lawyers Edre Olalia and Noel Neri asked why they were being blocked. Police Supt. Arturo Paglinawan of the WPD replied, “Pinatutupad lang namin ang no-permit, no-rally policy” (We are just implementing the no-permit, no-rally policy).
“This is not a rally, this is a motorcade,” the lawyers argued. At this point, Paglinawan quipped, “Mayroon ba kayong beauty queen o artista? Hindi ba yung motorcade karaniwan yung may kumakaway? (Do you have a beauty queen or an actor? Isn’t it that a motorcade usually has people waving to the crowd?)”
Paglinawan insisted that since the group had a political purpose, it was definitely “not a motorcade but a rally.” After about 30 minutes of negotiation, he still insisted that the WPD will not allow the group to proceed with their activity. Consequently, CODAL decided to turn the motorcade into what the WPD classified it to be – a rally.
Dressed in power suits, the lawyers started a moving picket. Lady lawyers including Nenita Mahinay, legal counsel of the striking workers of Hacienda Luisita, who were wearing high heels stepped out of the vehicles to join the rally.
In his speech, human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares denounced the police for blocking the motorcade. “This is a sad day in the history of our country. Lawyers are the defenders of human rights, the defenders of the poor. But this time we are not allowed by this government to express our grievances,” he said.
Lawyers nationwide have been under attack recently. CODAL has documented at least four lawyers and two judges killed from 2004 to early 2005. Among those murdered was Fedelito Dacut, a former CHR Commissioner.
“What this administration has done to us is clear proof that democracy is dead in this country,” Colmenares added. The rally ended after about 45 minutes, but the lawyers vowed never to rest their case until the current political crisis reaches a favorable solution.