The Oldest and the
Youngest in the Day of Protest
Various forces and
sectors, even strange bedfellows, came together this week for a unified
cause – to force what they said was a bogus president to step down from
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
OLD AND YOUNG: Two
generations meet in one historic unity march.
In a crowd of more than 10,000
gathered in front of the Sto. Domingo Church, Quezon City on June 24,
Juanito Reyes took a breather under the pink and blue steel overpass along
Quezon Avenue. At 86, the old man was one of the warm bodies who trooped
to the streets that day for a unity march of various sectors and
opposition forces demanding that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA)
step down from Malacañang.
The country’s chief executive has been
in hot water the past weeks on allegations of fraud when tapes of her
alleged wiretapped conversations with Commission on Election (Comelec)
Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano surfaced June 6. The conversation
allegedly occurred during the canvassing of votes in June last year with
the president’s voice captured telling the election official to ensure her
a one-million-vote lead over closest rival, Fernando Poe Jr., an
actor-turned-politician, now deceased.
“Matanda na ako, hindi na ako dapat
naglalakad ng ganito” (I’m too old, I should not be marching like
this) Manong (old man) Juanito said. “Pero kaya ko pa naman” (But I
can still manage), he added as the march was about to start.
Manong Juanito was at the Sto. Domingo
Church 12 noon and took a quick lunch in his grandson’s house in a nearby
street. He went back to the crowd before Fr. Joe Dizon, initiator of the
election watchdog Patriots, would lead an ecumenical mass atop of a
10-by-10 flat truck that served as the protest action’s mobile stage.
Dizon, an activist-priest, started his involvement in the mass movement
during martial law.
Wearing an old kurduroy hat, brown
pants, rubber slippers and a white shirt printed with an almost faded face
of Poe, Manong Juanito said this is his third time to join a campaign to
oust a Philippine president. The first was in 1986 when a people’s
uprising overthrew the Marcos dictatorship and the second was in 2001 when
the people ousted Joseph Estrada from Malacañang on allegations of
corruption and involvement in the illegal numbers game, jueteng.
A native of San Carlos, Pangasinan, he
said he was a distant relative of Poe who hailed from the same town. Asked
why Macapagal-Arroyo should heed the people’s call for her to step down,
he said the president has done nothing to alleviate the poverty of the
masses. “Lalo pa tayong naghihirap ngayon” (We’re getting more
miserable these days), he said.
As the emcee signaled the start of the
march to Liwasang Bonifacio (LB) in Manila – about 3 kms away - the now
famous “Hello, Garci” mobile phone ring tones started to play over the
giant sound systems. There were around nine versions of the tones played
throughout the march, the most notable of which was that with a Michael
Jackson song entitled “Smooth Criminal” as background music.
“Hanay lang tayo mga kasama,
sampu-sampu!” (Let’s line up, comrades, 10 in a row). As the rally
marshals instructed the crowd to close their ranks, Mang Juanito tried to
find his companions and slowly melted into the crowd that has swelled to
more than 20,000.
Among the veterans in the crowd were
Margarita Seta, 83, and Juanita Sason, 76, both from a Bayan Muna (People
First, a party-list group) community in Camarin, Novaliches. Shielding
themselves from the heat of the sun with an umbrella, the two old women
tried to run to keep pace with the march. Aling Nely, 49, a neighbor and
Bayan Muna member, played nanny to the two. “Kelangan alalayan, baka
sila madapa” (I should lend them a hand lest they fall on their
knees), she said, to which Aling (old woman) Juanita replied, “Di bale,
sanay naman. Nandun din kami nuon sa Edsa” (Never mind, we’re used to
this. We were in Edsa) - referring to Epifanio delos Santos Avenue where
the people gathered for the people’s uprising in 1986 and 2001.
While the crowd were amused by the
two, a more serious and a bit younger Francisco Ybañez, 69, carried a
placard posted on a bamboo stick that had the words “Oust Gloria Now!”
“Basta hindi karapatdapat sa pwesto,
dapat tanggalin” (Anybody not qualified for a position should be
ousted), Mang Francisco said. “Tumanda na ako sa pakikipaglaban at
handa akong makipag-rally hangga’t hindi napapatalsik si Gloria” (I’ve
gotten old fighting and I’m all set to join a rally until Gloria is
Mang Francisco lives in an urban poor
community in Balara, Quezon City. He said he has been fighting to own the
land where their house stands since the time of the late dictator
Ferdinand Marcos. He has retired and now lives with financial support from
his son who is an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Saudi Arabia. His son
was actually set to come home that day but Mang Francisco begged off from
fetching him from the airport. Their reunion would have to wait after the
protest action, he said.
It was also the first rally joined by
18-year old Girlie, a college student from Quezon City, who had not
anticipated the long march from the Church to Welcome Rotunda, the
boundary between Quezon City and Manila.
“Tumataas lahat ng bilihin pero ang
sweldo ng parents namin hindi kaya ang baon namin hindi rin (tumataas)”
(Prices of basic commodities are shooting up but my parents’ pay is not
increasing and so we get the same allowance), she said shyly.
She wipes her face that has become
oily by then, but she doesn’t regret, she said, and promised to join the
next protest action to oust the president.
A 16-year old student wearing a black
Che Guevarra shirt, the latest fashion craze of the youth, and a green
skirt which looked like her uniform, also joined the rally with some of
her friends. She said she has been joining mobilizations since she was 11
but issues may not have been clear for the young lass from a group known
as Kasama. “Weekend naman kasi bukas kaya okay lang” (Tomorrow is
Saturday so it’s just okay to join the rally), she said when asked why
she was present.
Another young man catches the crowd’s
attention with his all-black outfit and the red print on his shirt that
read: “Punks Not Dead.” He wore stainless chains on his wrist, earrings
which resembled a safety pin, and his hair looked like that of a character
from an anime cartoon.
He is Jaro, 20, a second year Computer
Science student at the University of the East and a member of the youth
group AnakBayan (nation’s youth). When the alleged wiretapped
conversations between Macapagal-Arroyo and Garcillano surfaced, members of
another youth group, the League of Filipino Students (LFS) went around
universities in Quezon City and Manila to conduct room-to-room discussions
on fraud as a tool of corrupt bureaucrats while popularizing the “Hello,
Garci” tapes and ring tones to their fellow students.
Earlier this week, some of their
members attended the congressional inquiry on the alleged wiretapped
conversation and distributed compact disc copies of the alleged
conversation to the members of the House.
The marathon congressional hearings
started June 21 and went on for three days. The first day was spent by the
members of the House debating on “ground rules” which young opposition
congresswoman Darlene Custodio said in an interview with Bulatlat,
had been agreed upon before the hearings could even start.
“It is obvious that our colleagues who
are pro-GMA are just trying to delay the hearings,” said the congressman.
During the hearings, allies of the President would question the ground
rules while the interpellations were ongoing.
Custodio admitted to getting irked by
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye who took the witness stand June 21 and 22. “Parang
scripted lahat ng sagot nya” (All his replies sounded like a script)
she said referring to Bunye’s repeated answers during the interpellations.
The hearings have been set following a
privilege speech by another young congressman, Minority Floor leader
Francisco “Chiz” Escudero from Bicol.
“We are joining the cry of the
nation,” said Digna Bonin, 49, an election volunteer for Poe who was
wearing a white shirt printed with the famous Sanrio character Hello Kitty
talking on the phone. The dialogue box had the words “Hello, Garci”. The
print at the back of the shirt was a man who resembles Garcillano with the
words “Hello, Ma’am.”
A businesswoman who is into food and
medical equipment, Digna has been with the National Coordinating of
Volunteers (NCCV) during the May 2004 campaign. Their group, led by
character actor Rez Cortez, supported Poe in the presidential race.
“GMA is not a legitimate president so
she should just step down. She is not supposed to be there in the first
place,” she said.
Digna also proposes that a
transitional council where the different sectors of society would be
represented should take over the administration. The council should then
prepare for an election to determine who would next lead the country, she
Local officials from Metro Manila who
are identified with opposition also attended the march that was met by a
500-strong dispersal team of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Region
III at the Welcome Rotunda. A back up team of around 200 PNP men wearing
camouflaged uniform and armed with high-powered rifles stood in front of
the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) along España Avenue.
“Pati nga ako ayaw padaanin,”
said Manila Councilor Francisco Moreno who joined the rally together with
their vice-mayor Danny Lacuña. He chided Manila Mayor Lito Atienza for not
allowing the protest action to reach Manila. “Tuta kasi ni GMA yun e”
(Atienza is a puppet of GMA), he said.
Moreno said he joined the rally
because he believes that Macapagal-Arroyo cheated during the last
elections. “They spent around P200 million to buy votes in Manila alone
but that big amount did not defer Poe from winning in our area,” he said.
Poe won in Manila by an 82,000-margin over her, the councilor said.
Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, who
arrived at the rally site with his security men at around 4 p.m. said, “Nagpapatunay
ito na nagigising na ang humihingi ng katotohanan” (Those looking for
the truth have stood up) referring to the big crowd that held the rally
that day. This also proves, he said, that the opposition has now united to
confront one common enemy – the Macapagal-Arroyo administration.
Although he was not privy to any
military defections, Binay said he is certain that there are “many
political defections” referring to a swelling number of local government
officials like mayors and governors who have quietly joined the ranks of
The opposition’s unity was shown in a
press conference of the United Opposition (UNO) at the Club Filipino in
Mandaluyong City June 23 where leaders of various groups faced the media
for the first time for a unified call for the truth to prevail and to
eventually oust the president.
Present were May 2004 presidential bet
Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson who, earlier that day launched his “Be Not
Afraid Movement” which will put up centers that would distribute CD copies
of the alleged GMA-Garcillano wiretapped conversation and former vice
presidential candidate Loren Legarda who said she would continue her
electoral protest against Vice President Noli de Castro. The former
senator added that the alleged wiretapped conversation caught on tape by
some Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp)
agents was a vindication of her protest. Bulatlat
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© 2004 Bulatlat
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