Youth, Students Lead Anti-Arroyo Rally in Manila

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.

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