Makati City, March 14, 2003 -- In their biggest mobilization yet against the United States' planned invasion of Iraq, local militant groups yesterday morning joined forces to denounce President Arroyo's shrill support for US President George W. Bush's private war with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in a massive rally for peace along Ayala Avenue in Makati City's central business district.

Around 10,000 protesters, beefed up by drummers and bikers, marched along Ayala Avenue, long the domain of "yellow" and elite "activists," bearing anti-war slogans and calling for the immediate ouster of Mrs. Arroyo and Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, whom they tagged as the Chief Executive's "war engineer."

While confetti and banners were visibly lacking from buildings along the avenue, police said the rallyists did not get the rude welcome they got from businessmen two years ago when supporters of now detained President Joseph Estrada trooped to the area.

"The rally was generally peaceful with no incidence of violence, unlike before when the rallyists were pelted with rocks and bottled water," a member of the Makati Public Safety Assistance said.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), for its part, also yesterday gave a more specific timetable for booting out the President.

In an exclusive telephone interview with the Tribune, CPP spokesman Gregorio "Ka Roger" Rosal said the party's Central Committee, in opening its doors to all "democratic and patriotic forces" for a broad alliance, had issued a call to "all revolutionary forces and mass organizations" under the CPP's influence to initiate moves to remove Mrs. Arroyo within the year.

Failing to oust her before the end of 2003, Rosal said, their alternative is to ensure the political defeat of administration candidates in the May 2004 elections, including Mrs. Arroyo, should she renege on her promise not to run for the presidency.

Asked if their willingness to join a multi-sectoral formation against the President might also include a tactical alliance with groups identified with now detained President Joseph Estrada, in whose ouster more than two years ago the CPP is believed to have played a major role, the NPA spokesman answered: "Let's just say we are open to cooperate with all patriotic and democratic forces. Let's leave it at that."

Rosal said the "legal mass movement" would have to take the primary role of removing Mrs. Arroyo "just like in Edsa Uno and Edsa Dos," referring to the 1986 and 2001 civilian-backed military revolts that ousted strongman President Ferdinand Marcos and the constitutionally-elected Estrada.

As the country further sinks into crisis due to the impact of the impending US-led war against Iraq, the spreading war in Mindanao and the economic bankruptcy, according to the NPA spokesman, more demonstrations and protest actions against the continued rule of Mrs. Arroyo would explode in the next several days.

In the Ayala Avenue rally, thousands of demonstrators organized by Estrada's Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino joined the militant groups demanding not only a stop to Mrs. Arroyo's pro-war stand but also to the collection of the purchased power adjustment and to rampant corruption in government.

Significantly, the three demands are also the same issues being raised by mass organizations identified with the country's mainstream Left.

The militants displayed miniature mock war weapons, burned effigies of Bush and Mrs. Arroyo and rolled a giant banner that occupied the entire southbound lane of Ayala Avenue and reading: "Ayaw Namin sa Giyera, Ayaw Namin kay Gloria." (We Don't Want War, We Don't Want Gloria)

They accused Reyes of kick-starting the recent military offensive against the Moslem separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). (See related story)

"Secretary Reyes must be held responsible for initiating the war in Mindanao and endangering the peace talks with (the MILF). He has caused the dislocation and harmed hundreds of people and continues to cause further loss of lives and property in Mindanao," according to Millet Morante, secretary general of the Kilusan Para sa Pambansang Demokrasya and a convenor of the Makati Anti-War March Committee.

Morante said the war in Mindanao is just meant to divert the pressing issues that the Arroyo administration has failed to address properly, such as the spiraling cost of electricity, the rising cost of water and the skyrocketing prices of oil and fuel.

On the possible US war on Iraq, she urged Mrs. Arroyo "to take a strong non-aligned position and join the chorus of voices in Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the UN, which has demanded more time for the inspection (of Baghdad's alleged weapons of mass destruction)."

Among the other groups that joined the march for peace were Sanlakas, Assalm Bangsamoro People's Party, Women's Federation for Empowerment and Equality, All-Filipino Students Federation, People's Movement Against Poverty, Alab Katipunan, People's Consultative Assembly and cause-oriented organizations from Makati and Quezon City, San Juan and Malabon towns and Cavite, Laguna and Rizal provinces.

Sanlakas president Wilson Fortaleza called on the United Nations to disarm the United States government if it really wants to avert the outbreak of war in the Middle East.

Fortaleza said UN officials should now feel insulted by Bush's casual regard for international laws.

"It would be a great accomplishment for the UN if it could disarm a country that is the biggest possessor of the most powerful weapons of mass destruction in the world," he added, referring to the test-firing by the US last Wednesday of its new and powerful bomb called "Massive Ordinance Air Burst (Moab), the "mother of all bombs."

Sanlakas, an Edsa Dos participant, also called on Mrs. Arroyo and Reyes to withdraw Philippine support for the the United States planned invasion of Iraq and to stop the military offensive in Mindanao.

Fortaleza said they plan to hold another big rally on April 1.

Families of overseas workers who joined the march also criticized Mrs. Arroyo for her unconditional support for the US-led threat against Iraq that they said has placed the migrants in danger.

Rosal, at the same time, said he and his group consider American combat forces intruding on rebel-influenced areas specially in Luzon, as "forces of aggression" and, therefore, are legitimate military targets of the party's armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA).

He issued the warning amid indications that the Philippine government would allow the deployment of US forces in NPA-influenced areas as part of its joint military exercises with the United States.

Last Feb. 19, CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison, reacting to the latest peace proposal of the government in connection with the stalled peace process, said a document presented recently by chief government negotiator Silvestre Bello III to the National Democratic Front (NDF) based in The Netherlands is a "document of surrender."

In his statement released through the Internet, Sison, now chief political consultant of the NDF allied with the CPP and NPA, quoted Bello as telling the NDF to agree to a peace settlement within six months or face the combined might of Philippine and American troops.

Two weeks ago, Rosal also issued a statement in connection with a survey mission conducted by an American colonel in the Bicol region, warning that the visit is a prelude to active US participation in the war against the NPA, which Manila and Washington have branded as a "terrorist organization."

In yesterday's Tribune interview, the NPA spokesman lambasted Reyes as the chief architect of the government's "all-out war" policy and for holding Mrs. Arroyo "hostage" to the whims of the military. (By Ben Gines Jr. and Paul M. Gutierrez, Tribune)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved