Palace not afraid of Erap hordes

PHILIPPINES NEWS SERVICE — Security authorities yesterday softpedalled the threat of the camp of former President Joseph Estrada to draw huge crowds in case the Sandiganbayan pronounces him guilty of plunder charges.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said while law enforcement agencies were preparing for demonstrations by Estrada’s loyalists, they are not as worried as before because attendance in these mass actions have been steadily dwindling.

“Based on our observation over the last 12 months, the size of street rallies by Erap supporters is becoming smaller and smaller. So I guess the government is not very much alarmed because the crowd is manageable,” Gonzales said.

Manila City Mayor Alfredo Lim has relaxed the ban on rallies on Mendiola Street—the gateway to Malacañang—by allowing them on weekends and holidays.

The Palace was relieved when Lim agreed to the request of Brig. Gen. Romeo Prestoza, head of the Presidential Security Group, to disallow the rallyists to go beyond Mendiola bridges. Lim also made it clear that the no-permit, no-rally policy imposed by his predecessor, former Mayor Lito Atienza, remained in force.

Yesterday, a group of Estrada supporters staged a protest rally on Mendiola but it ended peacefully with the marchers voluntarily dispersing after their program.

Secretary Gonzales, director general of the National Security Council, said security authorities have drawn up a contingency plan to cope with the expected series of protest actions by the Estrada followers.

When asked if the lack of big issues explained the decreasing size of protest rallies by Estrada forces, Gonzales said he was citing “factual observation.”

During the last day of the plunder trial last month in which Estrada himself testified before the court, the number of his followers who turned up in front of the Sandiganbayan building in Quezon City was unnoticeably small.

Meanwhile, presidential adviser on political affairs Gabriel Claudio praised Lim for assuring President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that she would be safe in Malacañang until 2019 as long as he is in city hall.

“Mayor Lim’s pronouncement is more reassuring not only to Malacañang but also to all peace-loving Manileños and Filipinos who want to see our nation prosper through a climate of harmony, security and stability,” said Claudio.

“Mayor Lim deserves the admiration of everyone for his magnanimity, statesmanship and dedication to the rule of law.”