Welga successful—TUCP; but impact on transport hardly felt in Metro as pols try to outshine protesters

By Maricel V. Cruz, Marian Trinidad, Eric Estrada, Joel R. San Juan and Jaime Pilapil, The Manila Times, 15 November 2000

MILITANT organizations as well as conservative trade unions and business groups yesterday joined hands in an unusual alliance to stage the Welgang Mamamayan or National Day of Protest to demand the resignation of President Estrada over charges that he pocketed more than P500 million in jueteng payola and kickbacks from the tobacco excise tax.

One of the organizers, the moderate Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), said the nationwide strike was successful, citing initial reports from its affiliates in the key towns and cities.

The President himself and Malacañang officials tried to discourage the massive protest action but to no avail. Even the rains apparently failed to dampen the resolve of the protesters as evidenced from these scenes:

Mass actions

Trade unions, churches, schools and business organizations have linked arms in 49 provinces and 25 cities for yesterday's mass actions. These included work stoppages, boycott of classes by students and government employees taking a one day leave as a sign of their support for the protest.

Thousands of civil servants in Metro Manila defied the warning of the Civil Service Commission that they would be suspended for up to three months if they joined the rally without filing leaves of absence.

Security was tight in Malacañang, especially in the entry and exit points where the number of guards was more than doubled, according to officials.

But Mr. Estrada preferred to stay out of the Palace, Press Secretary Ricardo Puno told a press briefing.

Puno clarified that the President left Malacañang to go to his residence at Polk St. in Greenhills, San Juan because there was a scheduled meeting there with people whom he did not identify.

The Press secretary also reiterated the President's stand that no amount of rallies would make him step down.

The President simply reiterated this morning that he finds it unfortunate because no matter how many rallyists keep on going around, he has already made it clear that he is not going to resign and that he is willing to go through the impeachment process (now pending in the Senate), Puno said.

No untoward incident was reported although the Armed Forces ordered more than four battalions of soldiers on standby in Metro Manila, in addition to the thousands of policemen also field to thwart violence.


However, some of the demonstrators from the provinces, who wanted to join the Welga in the metropolis complained they were harassed by policemen.

One such complaint came from protesters aboard 40 passenger jeepneys who said fully armed policemen refused them passage at the South Luzon Expressway in Carmona, Cavite.

Lawyer Ada Abad of the militant group Anakbayan said protesters were allowed to use the Carmona exit only after they threatened to file charges against the policemen, two of whom she identified as Isleta and Zapanta.

Meanwhile, Alex Aguilar, TUCP spokesman, described the Welga as a great success, adding that 80 percent of the country's major ports in the cities of Manila, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Davao stopped operation for half a day.

Aguilar also lashed out at government attempts to weaken to the protest movement by engaging in dirty psy-war tactics. He revealed that the state-owned PTV Channel 4 announced Monday night that TUCP was not joining yesterday's protest action.

The government is really becoming desperate, Aguilar said, adding that the Welga should already serve as a warning to the President.

The successful National Day of Protest should be a signal for the President to step down. We will continue to stage bigger and wider protest actions which may end up in total paralysis of the nation's trade operations until Mr. Estrada realizes that it's time to go, the TUCP spokesman stressed.

The protesters, however, failed to paralyze Metro Manila due to the refusal of big public transport groups like the Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Associations of the Philippines (Fejodap) to join.

But on the whole, the Welga organizers remained undeterred. The people have scored a point against tyranny and corruption, said Crispin Beltran, chair of the left-wing Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). We hope this victory will give the opposition more courage and determination in carrying out the fight until the government is rid of Mr. Estrada.

A mistake

For his part, Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora said the Welga was a mistake. It's a mistake but what can we do? he asked. It's their right and the government's obligation is to make sure that it's peaceful.

There were also politicians galore as they took advantage of the Welga apparently to score some pogi points, particularly those who joined the increasing clamor for the President to resign.

Thousands of students from the different colleges and universities in Metro Manila, including the Ateneo de Manila University, marched toward the historic Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang Palace where protesters planned to hold an overnight vigil.

Schools that declared no classes were University of Sto. Tomas and those in the so-called university belt like Far Eastern University, Centro Escolar University, San Beda College, Holy Spirit College and University of the East.

Government schools did not suspend classes, but only a handful of students were in attendance like the University of the Philippines campuses in Manila and Diliman, Quezon City; Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Sta. Mesa and its satellite school in the university belt.

However, afternoon classes were no longer held. Many of the students either joined the rally or stayed at home.

Students joined the militant groups stationed in Monumento in Caloocan; Quezon Memorial Circle, Philcoa, Isetann-Aurora Blvd. and Mabuhay Rotonda in Quezon City; UST, Liwasang Bonifacio and Lawton in Manila; and Baclaran in Parañaque-Pasay.

Meanwhile, students from the southern part of Metro Manila joined the rally in Ayala Ave. in Makati City, led by Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos.

Some of the speakers were former Securities and Exchange Commission chair Perfecto Yasay, Makati Business Club executive director Guillermo Luz and former speaker Manny Villar who was ousted from his post shortly after he rammed through the House of Representatives the impeachment case against the President.

Meanwhile, before about 5,000 rallyists marched toward Mendiola Bridge, politicians made short speeches like representatives Ace Barbers, Roilo Golez, Miguel Zubiri as well as Richard Gordon, former chair of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, and his wife Kate, mayor of Olongapo City.

Business as usual

In Davao City, it was business as usual as groups asking for the resignation of President Estrada failed to cripple the transport sector. Over 80 percent of the public utility vehicles plied their routes the whole day.

Business establishments also did not heed the call of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Of the 320 members of the group, only a handful of business establishments supported the call for work stoppage.

Felixberto Irag, secretary-general of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) chapter in the city, told the Manila Times that while most PUJs were on the road, many people were at home supporting the call for the President to step down.

Private schools, however, suspended their classes even without a formal announcement from the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS).

But in the Visayas and Bicol regions, tens of thousands of ordinary citizens led the protests and succeeded in paralyzing commerce and industry and public transport.

By far the biggest turnout in the Visayas was in Iloilo, where militant groups Kompil (Kongreso ng Mamamayang Pilipino) and the Iscrap Erap movement mobilized up to 35,000 people and succeeded in persuading traders to close down their shops.

Chanting Erap, Resign protesters marched down the city's main thoroughfares and distributed leaflets urging wider public participation and Estrada to quit the presidency.

More than 30,000 also demonstrated in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, where even department stores and restaurants closed down.

Thousands of chanting students%G�%@and their parents%G�%@went around the colleges and universities. A caravan of 850 jeepneys and tricycles roamed the city as residents on the sidewalks waved placards urging the President to resign.

This is merely a sign of the worst to come, said Julius Mariveles, chapter secretary-general of the militant Bayan.

Sen. Heherson Alvarez, speaking before rallyists, called for a continuous public pressure to force the President into resignation, saying his immediate departure from the presidency would minimize social and political damage to the economy.

A President is supposed to live a modest life. That Mr. Estrada has been found to have given each of his six mistresses a mansion, is already a betrayal of public trust, he said, ruling out forgiveness and executive pardon.

Cebu strike

In Cebu, a strike by dockhands affiliated with the Associated Labor Union crippled cargo handling operations at the Cebu International Port.

Up to 250,000 tons of cargo from Manila and Mindanao ports remained shut out in ferry bays, awaiting for word from ALU to lift their protests later in the day.

The call for protest by transport groups solicited support from jeepney fleet owners, and the city and provincial governments fielded buses to ferry stranded commuters from suburban villages to the commercial district.

The throngs that supported the protests belonged to the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno, National Federation of Sugar Workers, Amihan, Anakbayan, Gabriela, Kadamay, Undok, Health Alliance for Democracy, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Scientists, Technicians and Engineers for the People (Step), Northern Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates and Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights.

Rallyists from the moderate student and labor sectors came from the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, Teatro Obrero, Remove Estrada Movement, Negros Ecumenical Peace Advocates, Aglipayan Forum, No Erap Movement, Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines, Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, and parents-teachers associations.

In Angeles City, placard-bearing protesters trooped to Clark Special Economic Zone main gate where they demonstrated and denounced the alleged intervention of taipans from Manila as the main cause for the slowdown in the development and operation of Clark International Airport (CIA).

Scores of streamers which read, No Clark International Airport; No Votes for LAMP Candidates; Yes to Resign, were hung along the streets leading to Clark.