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Former presidents join Philippine rally

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Two former Philippine presidents, once bitter foes, joined tens of thousands of protesters at a rally Friday to press for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s resignation over a raging corruption scandal.

It was the largest crowd yet since Arroyo’s latest crisis erupted weeks ago when the Philippine Senate heard testimony, broadcast on live television, that linked her husband to multimillion-dollar kickbacks in a government telecommunications deal.

The crowd included former opponents ex-President Corazon Aquino, who ushered in democracy when the country’s first people power revolt ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, and former President Joseph Estrada, who was forced out over massive corruption by a second people power uprising in 2001.

I thought my work was done because I am already old, said Aquino, 75. But this is what the times ask for, for us to unite so that the deceit will end and we will find out the truth. Thankfully there are still many of us shouting, ‘Gloria, enough, resign already.’

Aquino used to be one of Arroyo’s biggest supporters before breaking away in 2005 amid allegations that the president had rigged the 2004 election.

Soldiers and police went on high alert, setting up checkpoints at major highways as demonstrators braved a drizzle and gathered in Manila’s financial district. Police estimated turnout at 15,000, while organizers estimated the crowd at about 80,000.

The rally was organized by a loose coalition of opposition groups, business people, left-wing activists, Roman Catholic church-backed organizations and a large evangelical group, the Jesus is Lord Movement.

The crowd included former opponents who, like Aquino and Estrada, have united to oppose Arroyo, who has fended off three impeachment bids and four coup plots in seven years in power.

No single group or person claims credit in leading this initiative, said Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the left-wing alliance Bayan.

Mrs. Gloria Arroyo made this possible. Her bankrupt and corrupt regime provided the urgency for everyone to set aside their differences and struggle together for truth and justice.

In southern Iligan city, about 1,000 Muslim and Christian protesters — including lawyers, teachers, priests, nuns and Muslim guerrillas in civilian clothes — gathered in a public plaza to call for Arroyo’s ouster.

Smaller anti-Arroyo rallies were held elsewhere in the country.

Arroyo’s latest trouble stems from allegations of corruption in a $330 million broadband deal with China’s ZTE Corp., which she was forced to cancel.

Former consultants for the telecommunications contract have said the president’s husband and the country’s elections chief — who has since quit — benefited from huge kickbacks linked to the aborted contract. Both men have denied wrongdoing.

Arroyo has not directly addressed the allegations against her and her husband but says she opposes corruption and that her family does no business with the government. ZTE also has denied the allegations.

Aquino said growing public discontent over the scandal could force Arroyo to quit.

I am growing optimistic because I can see that more and more Filipinos are taking part in the effort to find the truth, Aquino said. What came out in the Senate hearings was really shocking.

Arroyo, who has ordered an investigation by the Justice Department and the government ombudsman, inaugurated the country’s first public aquarium Friday and attended Mass at police headquarters.

The powerful military and Roman Catholic bishops — both of whom played key roles in the two people power revolts — have refused to join calls for Arroyo to resign, although both have had to deal with dissension among their ranks for not doing so.

Military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon warned troops they would face arrest if they joined the rally, saying such involvement could threaten the country’s nascent democracy.
Former presidents join Philippine rally – found here.

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March 2, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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