Warrantless arrests appear to be one of the first results of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyos's February 24 declaration of a state of emergency, professor Randy David from the University of the Philippines told Green Left Weekly from Manila. "I was arrested at a demonstration organised by Laban ng Masa [Struggle of the Masses] and charged with illegal assembly and incitement to sedition, with no warrant at all."
Judicial officials later released David, although the charges remain. Others arrested with him include Ronald Llamas, a leader of the Akbayan party. "There has also been a ban on all demonstrations and rallies", he said, "although such bans are really up to the mayors". A February 24 rally in the Makati business district was not attacked and dispersed like other rallies on the same day after Makati Mayor Jojo Binay, an opposition politician, refused to cancel a rally permit. This demonstration was attended by former president Cory Aquino and other elite figures who have criticised the president's decree.
"The Laban ng Masa demonstration, however, was violently dispersed with more than 80 people injured", Laban ng Masa chairperson Fransisco "Dodong" Nemenzo told GLW by phone. Laban ng Masa is an alliance of left and progressive groups in Manila, including Akbayan and the Workers Party (PM). "We had about 30,000 people at the demonstration but were attacked by thousands of police." There are unconfirmed reports that an arrest warrant has been issued for Nemenzo.
Arroyo's declaration claimed that "the extreme left represented by the NDF-CPP-NPA [the National Democratic Front, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New Peoples Army] and the extreme right, represented by military adventurists ... engaged in a ... conspiracy to bring down the duly constituted government". It also stated that "the claims of these elements have been recklessly magnified by certain segments of the national media".
The proclamation continued: "In my capacity as their commander-in-chief, [I] do hereby command the Armed Forces of the Philippines to maintain law and order throughout the Philippines, prevent or suppress all forms of lawless violence as well as any act of insurrection or rebellion and to enforce obedience to all the laws and to all decrees, orders and regulations promulgated by me personally or upon my direction."
Since the proclamation was made, the police have moved to occupy the offices of opposition newspaper the Tribune. Presidential chief of staff Mike Defensor warned that this would also happen to other media that violated the norms set by the government. There are also reports that the government stopped the printing of two other papers, the Malaya and Abante.
Crispin Beltran — a veteran trade union leader and member of parliament representing the left-wing Anakpawis grouping — was arrested soon after the declaration, under a warrant issued in 1985 charging him with rebellion. Another member of parliament, Satur Ocampo, representing the left party Bayan Muna, escaped arrest after avoiding police waiting for him outside a hotel where he had been attending a meeting. Both Beltran and Ocampo are often considered to be in solidarity with the NDF and CPP, which still organise underground.
"Laban ng Masa will be organising another action on February 26", Sonny Melencio from the Filipino Workers Solidarity, a member organisation of Laban ng Masa, told GLW late on February 25. "We will see if it is dispersed. We may need to start local actions. I do not think this whole process is over yet."
"One mystery", said David, "was that there has been no evidence of any coup. There has not been any movement of troops, or any assault on the government, although it was reported that General Danilo Lim, commander of the Rangers, had told the General Senga, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces, that the Rangers were withdrawing support from the government." Lim has now been relieved of his post and taken into custody.
"Arroyo has issued a decree almost taken word for word from a similar decree issued by [former president Ferdinand] Marcos 20 years ago to the day", David said. "This kind of arrogance may reignite opposition across many sectors of society — civilian and military. I cannot see people taking this lying down. I expect that there will be many applications to the courts seeking the proclamation be annulled as well as protests by the civil society social movements. But Arroyo will not compromise and give in voluntarily to any call to resign."
From Green Left Weekly, March 1, 2006.
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