‘Day of protest’ presses Estrada’s ouster

In a rare display of solidarity for a common cause, stock dealers walked out of their jobs, employers joined their workers, while teachers and school administrators suspended classes to be with their students in yesterday’s general strike meant to force President Estrada to step down.

Leftist groups also linked up with church-based organizations in staging protest marches and rallies as drivers and operators of mass transport systems agreed not to ply their routes.

Even environmentalists held an emergency meeting to adopt a formal stand against the Estrada administration which they blamed for the alleged continued degradation of the country’s natural resources.

Many business establishments also closed while attendance was low in offices that were open.

Several government offi-ces were forced to declare a half-day work to enable their employees to reach home early.

Security was tightened at Malacañang with the Presidential Security Group beefed up by at least six busloads of crack policemen.

Road blocks were also set up on streets leading to the Palace.

Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora described the general strike as "a mistake," but admitted the go-vernment could not do anything to prevent it.

Members of the influential Makati Business Club led by Guillermo Luz merged with the strikers, among them members of the leftist groups Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) and Sanlakas.

Scores of traders, wearing black arm bands or black sashes, walked out of the Makati and Ortigas bourses, clapping their hands and chanting "Erap resign"

The walkout caused stocks to fall, like the yellow confetti that rained down from high rises at the country’s premier financial district in support of a protest march to press the President’s ouster.

"If he is not going to resign, the market will continue to go down," said Romer Tan, one of about 100 stockbrokers who joined the hour-long walkout. "It’s about time that we drive the message to the President."

Stockbroker Paul Aquino said their position is for Mr. Estrada "to do fast–resign," adding that impeachment may take a long time.

At the Ortigas business complex in Pasig City, about 1,000 businessmen and employees, many in business suits, joined the rally. They used a laptop computer to send an e-mail message to the President urging him to "make the supreme sacrifice that will get the country back on the road to recovery."

At the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, police attempted to stop a protest by employees of the national flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL).

A similar standoff occurred at the South Luzon Expressway in Carmona, Cavite where policemen in full battle gear intercepted a group of protesters on their way to Manila aboard some 40 jeepneys.

The lawmen backed off, however, when leaders of the strikers from the southern provinces of Laguna, Quezon, and Batangas threatened to hale them to court.

The "Welgang Bayan" came a day after the House of Representatives passed an impeachment complaint against Mr. Estrada.

Separate groups of protesters paraded toward Malacañang, along Ayala Avenue in Makati City, or staged a rally at the Liwasang Bonifacio.

Among the prominent personalities who attended the rally at the Liwasang Bonifacio were former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Perfecto Yasay Jr., former Transportation and Communications undersecretary Josefina Lichauco, former Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority chairman Richard Gordon and his wife, Olongapo City Mayor Kate Gordon, singer Cynthia Patag and the so-called Spice Boys at the House of Representatives who all belong to the opposition.

Police forces across the country were placed on red alert to prevent any trouble, but were under instructions to observe maximum tolerance.

Chief Superintendent Edgar Aglipay, head of the National Capital Region Police Office, said there were no reports of any untoward incident "and we are congratulating the organizers for that."

The protesters included members of militant and leftist groups, labor unions, transport workers and employees of large corporations.

An unusual alliance of left-wing workers and conservative businessmen expressed support for the strike.

Vicky Garchitorena, spokeswoman for the Congress of the Filipino People (Kompil) which spearheaded the protest action, said Mr. Estrada has lost the "moral authority to govern" after he was impeached by the House on corruption charges, paving the way for his possible ouster pending trial at the Senate.

Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, constitutional successor of Mr. Estrada, and Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, have expressed full support for the strike.

In a statement, Sin urged the protesters to exercise calm and sobriety. "As I recognize the right of our countrymen to express their outrage at the immorality in public office, let me also take this occasion to remind them that such freedom must be tempered with order. The truth must be told, but always in charity," the prelate said.

He said strikes "must be exercised responsibly within the context of law and order all the time."

Arroyo and Sin, along with former Presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos and key opposition leaders, were among those calling for the President to vacate his post following charges that Mr. Estrada pocketed more than P400 million in jueteng payoffs.

Accusations by estranged presidential ally Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson triggered a deluge of calls for the President to relinquish his position.
Strike spreads like wildfire
The general strike to force Mr. Estrada’s resignation swept across the country, paralyzing trade and commerce in some 30 cities nationwide.

Most multinational corporations at the Calabarzon industrial area in the Southern Tagalog region also allowed their workers to stage a one-hour work stoppage.

BMP president Victor Briz said some 200,000 workers left their posts, prompting their plants, 200 of them in Metro Manila, to shut down. Among these factories were Fortune Tobacco, Gelmart Industries, Novelty Philippines, Honda Philippines, the Duty Free shops, Republic Asahi Glass, Manila Bay Spinning Mills, Wrangler, Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. and PAL.

BMP leaders said bigger protest actions would be held in the next few weeks.

Banks and airports, however, functioned normally, although seaport operations were minimally affected.

"Many schools were closed," Reuters reported.

Among them were the state-run University of the Philippines (UP), Miriam College, St. Mary’s Academy, Philippine Normal College, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippine Christian University and De La Salle University.

By about 9 a.m., the University Belt in Sampaloc, Manila which is just a stone’s throw away from Malacañang, was already teeming with students for the march to the Liwasang Bonifacio where a rally was held in the afternoon.

Leaders of the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines, the Movement for the Advancement of Student Power and the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines took turns lambasting Mr. Estrada for clinging on to his seat.

In a joint statement, the student groups expressed their "vehement outrage and resentment against a despotic and vindictive leader who has disregarded the interest of the broad masses particularly the youth in the name of his populist rhetoric of being for the poor."

UP professor Carol Almeda, president of the militant Alliance of Concerned Teachers, said the people now want Mr. Estrada to resign. "This is the expression of the people’s will to pressure the illegal occupant of Malacañang to step down. He is always saying that he was elected by the people. We the people now revoke that mandate," she said.

"This is a show of our conviction. The people do not trust the President anymore. We will continue attending these rallies until we pressure him to resign," said 29-year-old protester Jonathan Suarez.

Other groups that participated in the strike were Kilusang Mayo Uno, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, the League of Filipino students, Bayan Muna, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, GABRIELA, the Rise All Government Employees Against Estrada (RAGE), and the Code RED (Resign Erap Dali).

An estimated 50,000 people gathered at the Liwasang Bonifacio, while some 10,000 others joined the mass action in Makati.

Former Mandaluyong City mayor Benjamin Abalos and Pasig City Vice Mayor Lorna Bernardo led some 1,000 protesters in a march toward Makati.

At least 30 factories in Cebu City stopped operations as their workers joined the one-day strike.

About 70 percent of public transport in the cities of General Santos, Davao and Cotabato in Mindanao was paralyzed.

In Butuan City, a boisterous crowd of some 10,000 people consisting of religious workers, farmers, fishermen, students, urban and rural poor, women, labor and academe held a rally at the city square.

Placard-bearing marchers chanting "Erap babaero, lasengero, resign na" caused monstrous traffic jams.

All Catholic schools in Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino provinces suspended classes to allow their students and faculty to join the protest action.

Other areas hit by the strike were the cities of Tacloban, Zamboanga, Angeles, Santiago, Tarlac, Legazpi, Iloilo, Bacolod, and the province of Bulacan. — Jose Rodel Clapano, Mike Frialde, Jaime Laude, Marichu Villanueva, Sheila Crisostomo, Nestor Etolle, Non Alquitran, Rey Arquiza, Sandy Araneta, Pia Lee-Brago, Mathew Estabillo, Pete Laude, Marvin Sy, Allen Estabillo, Rene Alviar, Charlie Lagasca, Ben Serrano, Teddy Molina, Cet Dematera, Antonieta Lopez, Leo Solinap, Edith Regalado, Celso Amo, Benjie Villa, Ding Cervantes, Ric Sapnu, Philip Ting, Roel Pareño, Lito Salatan, Jess Mananghaya, Freeman News Service, other wire services











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