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Rebel without a clue
Gangs of Manila

By Patricia Evangelista
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:10:00 03/09/2008

Filed Under: Government, Politics

AT THE 22ND ANNIVERSARY OF THE EDSA PEOPLE POWER Revolution, Vice President Noli de Castro grips the thin white rope in his hands. His demeanor is that of a man who has calmly watched scores of floor directors jerk fingers at cameras moments before the red light flashes, and millions of Filipinos are allowed the sight of Kabayan greeting the country a good evening. The Vice President pulls at the rope. The huge, limp swag of red and blue and white refuses to fly, despite the aid of grizzled former President Fidel Ramos in a bemedaled cap. The cameras continue their ominous whirring. The Vice President looks strained. Unfortunately for the Vice President, there is no floor director at the People Power Monument to yell cut.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon hold on to their sections of the rope. The scene is a show of strength. The flag does not rise as voices soar, extolling the Republic as the cradle of the brave. It does not rise when the few still singing declare that the flag?s bright sun will never dim. And it does not rise even in the face of the terrifying might of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in the person of the AFP chief, who takes it upon himself to instruct the country?s second highest official in the art of flag-raising. Esperon pulls. De Castro pulls. Ramos pulls. Ermita pulls. The national anthem crests with the promise that there is glory in dying for the country. The rope snaps. The song ends. The sound system fails. The confetti falls in bricks. And the camera keeps rolling.

Past two in the afternoon at Baclaran Church, the crowds are just arriving. A gray-haired cyclist in a blue bike shorts takes off his helmet at a booth before the church, and signs a petition in support of truth. Entire families in yellow climb up the front steps. A young father races up, a toddler in his arms covered with a blanket. An old woman with burse totters slowly to a back pew. The rows fill quickly. A group of workmen stop by the church doors. They say they are here for Lozada, and look around with stunned delight at all the cameras. And by the Church gates, several protesters holding banners in decrying the ZTE-NBN controversy have no idea what ZTE is. Several of them drop the banners to whistle at girls.

There is a video of Mikey Arroyo at Liwasang Bonifacio, shot at roughly the same time as the Baclaran Mass. Beside him onstage is a man in a long-sleeved shirt and khaki, who raises a fist reluctantly at each call. Then he loosens up. ?Mabuhay si Mikey!? he shrills, repeating a fellow?s call. Then he looks around for approval and gets a back slap from the men onstage. Then he gets into the spirit, leaping into the air, an Energizer Bunny on steroids, arms akimbo. ?Mabuhay si GMA!? He nearly falls over, catches himself, high-fives an appreciative neighbor, and then begins his chant ?GMA! GMA!? The gentlemen on stage echo him. And the emcee announces the presence of the congressman of Batanes.

Congressmen in support of the President?including House Speaker Prospero Nograles?claim that anti-Arroyo protesters must be shown that they do not own the streets. They too have quality marchers?direct beneficiaries of the President?s programs. These people, says the Speaker, were the ones invited to the Liwasang Bonifacio rally.

Blocks away from Liwasang Bonifacio streams of people in navy blue T-shirts declaring support for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo traipse down the sidewalk, away from the rally. Is the rally over? No, says the blonde-streaked young man, who grins at the camera lens. They?re just on their way home.

Close to Liwasan, the rain begins to pour. The streams of people swell into waves, protesters surging down the highway using banners as umbrellas. Four to a streamer, five to a streamer, they rush to parked jeeps and buses. Some of them have come from as far as Antipolo, others from Cavite. News reports from major networks include interviews with protesters, who admit they have been paid with food and money. Others insist they have come of their own free will. They do not stay long.

More than a week ago, at the interfaith rally in Makati, convicted plunderer former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada marched down Ayala Avenue. He came dressed in a red jacket, sporting his usual pompadour and the remorseless arrogance necessary to claim that he supports the call for truth. He made it appear there is little honor among thieves.

There are those who have decried the events at the Makati rally, including young people, civil groups and rally organizers, all of whom were promised that politicians would abstain from addressing the crowds. Members of youth group Team RP pulled out early on, claiming that the politicians? speeches misrepresented their convictions.

In an interview, responding to criticism against his presence in Makati, Estrada said that those involved in the anti-Arroyo campaign would not have been able to muster enough warm bodies without the help of key political figures like himself.

?People were chanting non-stop and confetti continued to shower while I marched with my wife, Loi and my Cabinet members at the rally on Friday,? recounted Estrada.

Police blocked hundreds of protesters from Cubao. Media cameras were banned from the air. And in a corner, away from students with school banners and organized civil society groups, money changed hands, with paid protesters in support of the Arroyo ouster happily raising their hands as their names were called.

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