By RONALYN V. OLEA, JANESS ANN J. ELLAO, MAO HERMITANIO and GLAIZA MAY MUZONES
MANILA – On the eve of the anti-charter change rally on Wednesday, text messages were circulating warning people from joining the rally to avoid being infected with the A(H1N1) virus. Some activists speculated that this was ploy by the Arroyo administration to discourage people from protesting.
Even Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita couldn’t resist the temptation to weigh in with his own opinion. There’s a flu virus spreading out there, he said at a briefing in Malacanang, and it would be irresponsible of officials like him not to warn people against doing things that could potentially worsen the situation. And then he smiled.
But many protesters were undeterred. Many of them, mostly from the religious and the middle class, wore surgical masks. Some wrote anti-charter change messages and slogans on these masks.
“Compared to the scandals perpetually plaguing our country, the A(H1N1) virus is less virulent,” said Vijae Alquisola, president of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, one of the groups that joined the mass action.
“To avoid the virus,” Alquisola said, “one must simply wash his hands regularly. To avoid the scandals, one must vigilantly campaign for the removal of the unscrupulous seated in government, particularly Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.”
Despite the virus scare and the suspension of classes, the presence of students was notable.
Students from St. Scholastica’s College, Ateneo de Manila University, University of the East, St. Paul University, Lyceum of the Philippines, De La Salle University, Adamson University, Trinity University of Asia, University of the Philippines and Polytechnic University of the Philippines joined the Ayala protest.
Youth groups put up a giant blackboard where students wrote and expressed their outrage against pro-charter change lawmakers and the Arroyo government.
“What we saw in Ayala is the transformation of ongoing virtual protests in cyberspace to real protests in the streets and the awakening of a new generation of patriotic and critical young Filipinos,” Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino said.
Contingents from the United Opposition lead by Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay filled the whole stretch of Ayala Avenue with their colorful flags and color-coordinated shirts. The colors yellow and orange dominated the crowd while festive drum music played during the march.
The frontliners of the contingents from Makati Avenue held a striking red banner with yellow texts that said “Stop Gloria’s Dictatorship.” Just behind them was a three-foot effigy of Arroyo that danced to the the crowd’s chants. Also marching with them was the Pagbabago People’s Movement for Change. Carol Araullo, chairperson of Bayan and founding member of Pagbabago!, was busy running around checking if everything was going as planned.
The marching of the contingents toward the converging point in Ayala Avenue started at around 4:30 p.m. Many bystanders were on their toes, craning their necks, hoping to get a glimpse of what was happening. Some were waving their hands in approval of the protest. A lady even climbed the fence as she shouted, “Satur, hoy, Satur!” and walked away happily when Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo waved back at her.
There were no moments of silence as the protesters started marching until they were a few meters away from the stage. “Gloria at Cha-Cha, Ibasura!” they shouted with clenched fists in the air. The chanting grew louder as the crowd approached the Ayala-Paseo. A rain of confetti welcomed them.
Earlier in the day, hours before the protest started, environment activists and indigenous peoples staged a “Tanghalian ng Masa” on Ayala, with protesters eating rice & kangkong.
Paseo de Roxas was lined with truckloads of policemen. Firetrucks were on standby as well as the protesters began trickling in.
As the crowd swelled, the contingent from Makati Ave played “Ilaglag Mo,” where they throw a ball at board with photos of the legislators who passed HB 1109.
Makati employees expressed their support by throwing confetti made of yellow pages.