Saturday, March 15, 2008


That it was examination week in schools throughout the country did not deter youth and students from leading a March 14 rally at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila.

Vol. VIII, No. 7, March 16-29, 2008

That it was examination week in schools throughout the country did not deter youth and students from leading a March 14 rally at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila.

It was the last major demonstration against the Arroyo regime before the nation’s Christian faithful take a break for the Holy Week. It was also the third big anti-Arroyo rally in a month since former Philippine Forest Corporation president Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada came out with his exposés on the National Broadband Network (NBN) deal between the Philippine government and China’s ZTE Corporation –- for which he served as a technical consultant.

The NBN project is a $329-million contract to connect government agencies throughout the Philippines through the Internet.

Lozada revealed in Senate investigations that the NBN deal was overpriced by $130 million, and that it was “standard practice for government contracts” to be overpriced by 20 percent.

He also disclosed that presidential spouse Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo was involved in back channel negotiations on the NBN deal. He confirmed the involvement of former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos in the contract, as well as his attempt to bribe Romulo Neri –- who was director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) during negotiations on the project –- thus corroborating earlier allegations by businessman Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, son of ousted House Speaker Jose de Venecia, and Neri himself.

The younger De Venecia heads Amsterdam Holdings, Inc., which is one of the losing bidders in the NBN contract.

Lozada’s exposés came about a week after the elder De Venecia was ousted from the House speakership. The elder De Venecia is reported to have earned the ire of Malacañang for failing to stop his son from speaking out on the NBN deal.

Lozada’s revelations, together with previous attempts to silence him like his abduction allegedly by elements from the Presidential Security Group (PSG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) with the assistance of airport security men upon his arrival from Hong Kong early last month, provoked public outrage and revived calls for Arroyo to resign from office.

United Opposition (UNO) spokesperson Adel Tamano, who is also the president of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM), appealed to the crowd for unity.

“The Arroyo administration is using the ‘divide and conquer’ tactic against us,” Tamano said. “The activists are pitted against the non-activists, EDSA I and EDSA II are pitted against EDSA III. This is not right. We have a common purpose, and that is to search for the truth.”

Lozada did not show up at the March 14 rally in Manila, as he was on a speaking tour in Iloilo.

But the younger De Venecia was there, echoing Joze Rizal’s description of the youth as the “hope of (the nation)” and urging them to continue fighting for truth. He also urged the Arroyo couple to “back off” from corruption and from lying to the Filipino people –- alluding to a supposed order to him by presidential spouse Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo to “back off” from the biddings on the NBN deal.

A highlight of the program was a skit performed by the University of the Philippines (UP) Repertory Company. Set in 2030, the skit depicted a girl’s travel back to the time of the Arroyo administration when, as one of the characters would say, “corruption and political killings were rife.” The main character was on a mission to get President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s mole, and her quest took her through several corruption scams involving the Arroyo administration –- including the construction of the President Diosdado Macapagal Avenue, which was overpriced by P1 billion and was one of the first corruption issues against the President.

Another highlight of the program was a performance by rapper Peter Park Her, whose song demanded that those involved in corruption be lined up at Rizal Park and shot -– in reference to the execution of Rizal, now the country’s national hero, in what was known as Bagumbayan in 1896.

Mary Grace Poe, daughter of the late actor Fernando Poe, Jr. who was Arroyo’s closest rival in the 2004 presidential elections, also spoke at the rally, urging the youth to think not only of their own futures but also the future of the nation.

Poe lost by 1.1 million votes to Arroyo in 2004 in an election marred by fraud, which repeatedly manifested itself in tampered election documents and discrepant poll figures.

The issue of fraud in the 2004 elections was revived in 2005, when presidential spokesperson Ignacio Bunye brought out into the open copies of the so-called “Hello Garci” tapes. These are a series of wiretapped and recorded conversations in which a woman with a voice similar to Arroyo’s is heard instructing an election official –- widely believed to be then Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano –- to rig the polls. The woman specifically instructs “Garci” to ensure a victory of “more than 1M” for her.

Before the youth-led program at the Liwasang Bonifacio, activists belonging to Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-National Capital Region (Bayan-NCR) staged a “Kalbaryo ng Maralita” (Calvary of the Poor), a street-theater presentation depicting the sufferings of the Filipino masses using Christianity-based imagery.

At around 2 p.m. Bayan and the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) marched to the Liwasang Bonifacio for an interfaith activity officiated by Abp. Oscar Cruz and Bp. Teodoro Bacani, both of the Catholic Church; and several Protestant pastors.

After the interfaith activity, which included the release of doves and green balloons, there were several speeches by student leaders from different schools.

Former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Jr. and Reps. Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna (People First) and Liza Maza of the Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) were in the rally, but did not speak on stage. Former Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) Commissioner Zosimo Paredes, who ran in the 2007 senatorial elections but lost, was also spotted in the rally.

The rally had a festive atmosphere, with performances by UP-based ethnic ensemble Kontra-Gapi and rock bands The Jerks, Republika de Lata, and Datu’s Tribe among others.

Rally organizers – mostly belonging to the Youth Act Now -– estimated the crowd size at its peak at 10,000. Police estimates yielded a figure of 6,000.

Aside from the “usual suspects” UP and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), schools like the University of Asia and the Pacific, De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila University, University of Santo Tomas (UST), PLM, and the Philippine School of Business Administration (PSBA) were well-represented in the rally. Bulatlat

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