By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
with Grace S. Uddin/davaotoday.com (Davao), Ritche Salgado (Cebu), Juland Suazo (Davao), Noel Godinez (Baguio) and Macario Pacana (Cagayan de Oro)
Front page photos by Raymund Villanueva, Ritche Salgado, Barry Ohaylan, Terence Krishna Lopez, Angelica de Lara, Ronalyn V. Olea, Janess Ann J. Ellao, Macario Pacana
MANILA – More than a show of force, the protests across the Philippines on Wednesday were an expression of outrage, a manifestation of a people’s growing revulsion toward a regime that has become the most despised since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
From Makati to Davao, Filipinos from all walks of life poured out into the streets, placards and banners in hand, but most of them brandishing nothing but the resolve to let it be known that they have had enough of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Rosita Wenceslao was one of them. A 63-year-old grandmother who earns a living by selling brooms in the streets of Davao, Wenceslao chose on Wednesday to march alongside activists instead of earning her meager income for the day. The times are hard, she said, and the government needs to know that folks like her feel and live it.
“We should give time to voice out our sentiments,” Wenceslao said.
And so they did.
In the Makati City rally, where an estimated 10,000 people converged, speakers on a stage built in the corner of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas took turns lambasting the regime and its efforts to ram through what many have called a “constitutional gang-rape” to allow Arroyo to extend her term, if not as president then as prime minister in a parliamentary setup.
The charter-change move, according to the criticism, is designed so Arroyo can have continuing immunity because of the many legal cases to be brought against her for alleged corruption and human-rights abuses.
“How much is your conscience worth?” asked the typically calm Grace Poe-Llamanzares, the daughter of the late actor and 2004 presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. There’s an unmistakable indignation in her voice as she denounced Arroyo’s allies in Congress for railroading House Resolution 1109 on June 3. The measure would pave the way for charter change.
Llamanzares was referring to allegations that the legislators who railroaded House Resolution 1109 did so in exchange for P20 million each from the administration. Her father, the country’s most popular actor, ran against Arroyo in 2004 but was allegedly cheated of a victory. The alleged cheating has been hounding Arroyo ever since, especially after the so-called “Hello Garci” tapes came out that showed a massive plot to rig the 2004 elections with the alleged participation of election and military officials.
Former president Corazon Aquino, in a statement read by her grandson Kiko Aquino Dee, expressed disgust toward Arroyo’s brand of leadership. She was also concerned for the country’s future if Arroyo is allowed to rule beyod 2010.
“This is not the kind of leadership that is right for us,” said Aquino, who could not make it to the rally because she was ill. “This is not the kind of society I want to bequeath to the next generation.”
Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance), emphasized Aquino’s point. “As a parent, I don’t want my children to grow up under Gloria Magtatagal-Arroyo,” Reyes said.
Former vice-president Teofisto Guingona Jr. drew parallels between Arroyo and Marcos and enjoined Filipinos not to let history repeat itself. “We must learn from the lessons of the past,” he said.
Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio, in a speech that lasted no more than a minute, denounced House Resolution 1109. “Tayo po ay inoonse ng gobyernong ito!” he said. (“We are being fooled by this government!”)
Former House speaker Jose de Venecia, an erstwhile ally of Arroyo, told the crowd that the president “is just using cha-cha to stay in power for life!”
“I worked with GMA for 10 years,” de Venecia said, “and I can tell you that this is her motive for pushing charter change.”
De Venecia and Arroyo had a falling out after his son, Joey, helped divulged the details of the alleged corruption surrounding the multi-billion-dollar NBN-ZTE broadband deal. The whistleblower of the alleged scam, Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada was also at Wednesday’s rally in Makati.
Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas, in a statement read by lawyer Louie Sison, called the passage of House Resolution 1109 “a shameful disregard of our sentiments.”
There have been attempts by the Arroyo regime to change the Constitution for dubious reasons. And each time, the people resisted. On Wednesday, Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo challenged Filipinos not to let their guard down.