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Cablegate: Anti-Arroyo Protests Still Lack Critical Mass

VZCZCXRO1204
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #0521/01 0601216
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 291216Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9943
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 000521

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: PGOV KCOR PINR RP

SUBJECT: ANTI-ARROYO PROTESTS STILL LACK CRITICAL MASS

REF: A. MANILA 517 (MANILA BRACES FOR ANOTHER

DEMONSTRATION)
B. MANILA 483 (LIMITED PROTESTS MARK ANNIVERSARY)
C. MANILA 404 (BRIBERY ALLEGATIONS ROIL
ADMINISTRATION)
D. MANILA 316 (HOUSE SPEAKER OUSTED)

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The presence of high-profile critics of the
Arroyo Administration, including former Presidents Corazon Aquino
and Joseph Estrada, at a February 29 inter-faith rally failed for
the second time this week to create the critical mass of outrage and
large-scale support that would result in the resignation of
President Arroyo. With the leadership of senior ranks of the Armed
Forces and the Philippine National Police resolute in their
opposition to extra-constitutional action and with the church
hierarchy ambivalent about once again putting its weight behind
popular revolt, rally organizers - including leftist and student
activists and some business elites - were once again stymied in
their hopes of bringing about another popular uprising of the kind
that brought down Presidents Marcos and Estrada. Still, the
presence of approximately 15,000 demonstrators on the street was a
clear signal to President Arroyo that her administration's
difficulties with charges of corruption are not over. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) Thousands of demonstrators from various sectors of
society, including civil society leaders, church officials, militant
groups, and the political opposition gathered on February 29 for an
"interfaith" protest against President Arroyo at the Ninoy Aquino
Monument in Manila's main business district (ref A). Crowd
estimates varied widely, with organizers estimating the number at
75,000, while the Philippine National Police put the figure at
15,000. In any case, the numbers were significantly lower than the
organizers desired, and certainly not comparable to the estimated
one million protesters that led to the removal from power of
Presidents Marcos and Estrada. The demonstration was mostly
peaceful as police and military units maintained public order, and
no security units broke ranks and joined the protesters.
Previously, mass rallies in 1986 and 2001 succeeded in large part
because elements of the security forces turned against the
government.

3. (SBU) During the three-hour demonstration, Catholic, Protestant,
and Muslim religious leaders sat at the heart of the demonstration,
leading prayer services for the crowd. In an unlikely pairing,
former President Corazon Aquino, clad in her signature yellow
clothing, and pardoned former President Joseph Estrada sat next to
each other, united only in their desire for President Arroyo to step
down. Briefly addressing the crowd, Aquino repeated her call for
President Arroyo to resign, saying "I thought my duties had ended
but the circumstances require me to rise up." For his part, Estrada
thanked the crowd for their "willingness to stand up for truth,
justice, and change." Estrada quipped, "I was an understaying
President, but President Arroyo has overstayed her time," he noted.

4. (SBU) While notable former congressmen and retired military and
police generals joined the rally, few sitting Congressmen or
Senators appeared on the streets with the demonstrators - vocal
opposition Senator Panfilo Lacson the notable exception. In a press
conference prior to the event, Senate President Manny Villar said it
was premature to call for the President's resignation. "It would be
too hard for us Senators to actively call for the President's
resignation because the Administration might say that we have
prematurely concluded the ZTE investigation," Villar said (ref C).
President Arroyo conducted business as usual, attending a morning
mass, the opening of an aquarium in Manila, and a meeting with
Philippine National Police Chief Avelino Razon at police
headquarters.

COMMENT
-------

5. (SBU) Today's demonstration appeared to be somewhat larger than
Monday's protests that marked the anniversary of the 1986 people
power movement, but lacked anywhere near the magnitude and fervor of
the events that brought down Ferdinand Marcos. President Arroyo
remains resolute in her intention to serve out her presidential term
to 2010, but the presence of thousands of demonstrators on the
street was a clear signal that her administration's difficulties
with charges of corruption are not over, with her detractors and
critics determined to press for greater transparency on the charges
they have leveled against her administration.


Visit Embassy Manila's Classified SIPRNET website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eap/manila/index. cfm

MANILA 00000521 002 OF 002

You can also access this site through the State Department's
Classified SIPRNET website: http://www.state.sgov.gov

KENNEY

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