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Labor Day rallies nationwide ‘peaceful’–police

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By Joel Guinto, Abigail Kwok, Thea Alberto
First Posted 11:02:00 05/01/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Labor Day rallies in Metro Manila and other key cities in the country on Thursday were peaceful, Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Avelino Razon Jr., said.

As of late Thursday afternoon, Razon said there were “no significant reports of violence or confrontation” in protest actions in the capital, and in the cities of Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Baguio, Calamba, Legazpi, and Cavite, crediting this to a combination of police preparedness and protesters’ cooperation.

“Our preparations and the cooperation of those who took part in the public assemblies were instrumental to the generally peaceful outcome of the event,” Razon said in a statement.

“This only goes to show that peaceful and orderly public assemblies can be held if everyone will cooperate,” he added.

Razon said the PNP would return to the lowest “normal” alert nationwide at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Metro Manila had been placed on “full” alert, while the rest of the country was on the second highest “heightened” alert.

Thousands of workers rallied at the foot of historic Don Chino Roces Bridge, formerly known as Mendiola, for higher pay and better working conditions.

In an earlier news conference in Camp Crame, the chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), Director Geary Barias, said the rallies in the metropolis were “very peaceful and orderly.” He attributed this to earlier dialogues with rally organizers and to a policy of keeping policemen on the sidewalks instead of confronting rallyists to avoid tension.

A total of 2,500 anti-riot policemen have been deployed to secure the capital, 1,200 of whom were deployed in the vicinity of Mendiola, a few meters from Malacañang, Barias said.

An additional 400 soldiers were deployed to secure the Palace, Barias told reporters in Camp Crame.

Roads around Malacañang were blocked and tightly guarded since early, forcing motorists and pedestrians to take detours.

“The rallies have been very peaceful and orderly,” he said.

Thursday afternoon, some 7,000 protesters belonging to the party list Bayan Muna, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Kilusang Mayo Uno, and allied groups massed up at Mendiola after marching from the Liwasang Bonifacio, where they had staged a rally earlier.

Earlier, at noon, some 2,000 protesters from the Buklurang Manggagawa ng Pilipinas (BMP) Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) and Sanlakas converged at the foot of the Don Chino Roces Bridge, and dispersed after an hour-long program, he said.

These groups marched from the Liwasang Bonifacio although their number receded as they neared Mendiola.

The Bayan-led rally at the Liwasang Bonifacio was joined by Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño, Anakpawis Representative Crispin Beltran, and KMP Chairman Rafael Mariano.

“Ito ang Labor Day na walang maasahan ang mga manggagawa…puro pangako lamang at malabong maisakatuparan [This is the Labor Day when the workers can hope for nothing…only promises that cannot be fulfilled],” Casiño.

Beltran called the protest a “unified resistance,” which he said was the result of the government’s incapacity to meet the demands of workers.

However, Beltran said that this kind of mass action, even when branded as communism, was better than not being able to do anything for the country.

He quoted in Filipino an Argentinian priest that once said, “It is better to be called a communist rather than a saint if the communist will ask why the poor are poor, why the poor are growing in number, and why poverty is worsening.”

While the militant groups presented different solutions to alleviate workers’ condition, there was a unified demand for the P125 legislated wage increase.

“Anumang increases ay dapat idaan through legislation kasi dapat lahat ng manggagawa ay magkaroon ng pagtaas ng sahod. Kaya ang panawagan namin ay P125 ngayon na [Whatever increases there will be should pass through legislation because the wages of all workers should be raised. That is why our call is for P125 wage increase now],” Presto Suyat, KMU spokesman, told

Reyes said, “Si Presidente mismo ang humarang sa [The President herself is against the] P125 legislated wage increase.”

He added in Filipino, “This is why she announced the wage increase yesterday, even if it would still be implemented in July, because other than that the President could not do anything for the workers.”

Aside from the P125 legislated wage increase, the KMU asked the government to reduce tax on petroleum, diesel and basic goods, and to stop extrajudicial killings, Suyat said.

Earlier on Thursday, Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel said that if she had to rate President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s performance, she would give the chief executive a zero.

“I would be giving her a zero grade and there will be no appeal for [a] repeat,” said Baraquel, noting that Arroyo’s programs have not improved the lives of working Filipinos.

She said Arroyo must heed labor groups’ calls for an unconditional zero percent income tax for minimum wage earners.

Around 100 workers from various groups gathered outside the University of Santo Tomas in Manila early Thursday before marching to Liwasang Bonifacio and then to Mendiola.

Barias said although they have not received security threats, the Agence France-Presse reported that elite police commandos armed with assault rifles however were deployed on highways leading to Manila, while “crowd dispersal units” were also placed on full alert near key government buildings.

“The economic crisis is sharper and more intense this year,” said Reyes, Bayan secretary general.

“Workers in the Philippines have every right to be angry and frustrated,” over government policies, he said.

With reports from Kathleen Martin and RJ Nacu, Mark Ching, Camille Diola, Contributors; AP

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Written by joelguinto

ThuUTC2008-05-01T07:54:52+00:00UTC05bUTCThu, 01 May 2008 07:54:52 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am05

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