PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — VARIOUS groups opposed to Charter change yesterday occupied the corner of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas in Makati City to show their indignation to efforts to rewrite the Charter which they said will extend the term of President Macapagal-Arroyo.
Event organizers said there were about 20,000 people who marched and converged at the city’s financial district but the police gave a conservative crowd estimate of about 5,000.
Personalities spotted marching included Senators Manuel Roxas II, Benigno “Noy-noy” Aquino III, Panfilo Lacson, Rodolfo Biazon, Pia Cayetano, Loren Legarda, Jamby Madrigal and Richard Gordon, former Senate President Franklin Drilon and Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza, and Rep. Jose de Venecia. They took turns lambasting allies of the administration who are pushing Charter change. Outspoken Bishop Oscar Cruz was also seen in the crowd, along with some priests, nuns and members of religious groups.
All of them expressed their opposition to House resolution 1109 which seeks to convene Congress into a Constitute Assembly to rewrite the Constitution.
Former President Joseph Estrada did not make it since he is in Kuwait. In a stinging statement sent to media groups, Estrada said efforts to tinker with the Constitution are meant to extend the term of office of Mrs. Arroyo.
“Nang-agaw ng kapangyarihan noong 2001, nagnakaw ng eleksyon noong 2004, at garapal na patuloy na nagnakaw sa sa kaban ng bayan,” he said.
Makati Mayor and United Opposition president Jejomar Binay led a large column of flag-waving and banner-carrying marchers but he was not among the speakers. Binay has bared his plan to run for president next year.
Aside from the United Opposition, groups that joined the rally, the biggest this year, include Filipinos for Peace, Justice and Progress Movement, the Nationalista Party, Concerned Citizens’ Movement, Black and White Movement, Stop Cha-cha Coalition, Sanlakas, Liberal Party, Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines and other religious groups, Kilusang Makabansang Ekonomiya, Former Senior Government Officials, and Bangon Pilipinas led by Jesus is Lord leader Brother Eddie Villanueva.
Business groups supported the rally, saying there is no need to amend the Charter since national elections will be held next year.
“There is no widespread clamor to amend the constitution, especially now that we are less than a year away from a presidential election,” said a joint statement issued by five prominent business groups.
No untoward incident was reported but the police remained on high alert. More than 1,000 policemen, soldiers and members of the Presidential Security Group guarded Malacanang, while thousands more policemen were deployed to secure other areas in Metro Manila.
National Capital Region Police Office chief Chief Supt. Roberto Rosales said they were prepared for any scenario and that the police is ready to defend Malacanang and Metro Manila from all threat groups.
The NCRPO monitored the rally through CCTV cameras. At least 1,500 policemen served as anti-riot troops, complemented by 1,500 soldiers.
Similar protest rallies were also held in Bacolod City, Davao and Baguio but all these were peaceful, police said.
In Malacanang, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the Palace respects the right of the people to express their grievances by holding protest rallies.
“Malacanang always take these protests seriously. We’re not being very cavalier about it,” Ermita said at his regular press briefing.
He however said these protest actions are nothing new as far as the Arroyo administration is concerned.
“Ang mahalaga meron tayo unawaan to give everybody a chance to air their grievances in a very democratic ways basta let’s be on the look out for anyone who might create trouble because we don’t want that to happen,” he said.
He also stressed that it’s business of governance as usual for President Macapagal-Arroyo despite the rallies.