Thousands of people took to the streets of the Philippines capital Manila on Friday. They accuse President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of corruption and have demanded her ouster. It was the biggest rally since 2005 when Arroyo was accused of election fraud the year before.
Thousands of protestors called on Arroyo to resign on Friday
Security was high as about 10,000 people took to the streets to voice their protest against the current Philippine government -- they included artists, lawyers, nuns, priests, students and office workers. Some protesters threw tomatoes at images of the president and her husband -- others waved flags and banners.
“We are calling for general systemic change,” explained one protester. “How? By first ousting the regime which is totally bankrupt, corrupt and repressive.”
President Arroyo has already survived several attempts to oust her, whether by putsch or by impeachment. She could well survive these protests too but some observers say it will be tough.
Telecoms deal scandal
The latest protests and misgivings have been triggered by fresh claims of corruption. Allegedly, President Arroyo and her husband attempted to gain over a hundred million US dollars in kickbacks from a telecoms deal with a Chinese firm. When the scandal broke, the deal was broken off.
President Arroyo has denied the charges: “I take the issue very seriously and I took steps to cancel the contract as soon as I could, given the sensitivities of our diplomatic relations with our largest export market.”
It remains to be seen whether the telecoms scandal will lead to President Arroyo’s fall. Some observers say the opposition lacks unity and the electorate wants stability, so the protesters will not achieve their ultimate goal.
Ouster not good in long-term
Senator Francis Escudero, who is a member of the House Committee on Rules, doubts whether the president’s ouster by illegitimate means would be good for the country.
“Nobody wants that,” he said. “We still believe in following the legal processes whereby a president can, or should, be replaced; namely, by impeachment or by resignation.”
“I doubt if she will resign and I doubt whether impeachment will prosper in the House, given that she still controls the House of Representatives, most of whose belong to her coalition of parties. I honestly can’t say whether a coup d’état will occur but that’s the last thing I would want to happen because we would be placed in a more difficult, more autocratic, more dictatorial regime than we are in right now.”
The government is doing everything it can to avoid a coup d’etat. On Thursday, an al-Qaeda-linked plot to assassinate the president was revealed to the nation.
Critics said the authorities were using scare tactics to prevent the anti-Arroyo demonstration from taking place. But the government used the threat to deploy troops and armoured vehicles to the capital to beef up security ahead of the rally.
On Friday, opposition leaders accused the government forces of preventing protesters from entering Manila to join the protests.
The protests are the most important to hit Manila since 2005 when thousands took to the streets amid allegations that the president had rigged the previous year’s elections. But only time will tell if they will achieve their aim or whether once again President Arroyo can survive.