QUEZON CITY, September 4, 2003 (STAR) By Christina Mendez and Ding Cervantes  - Thousands of pro-democracy supporters, mostly from Pampanga, gathered at the EDSA People Power Monument in Quezon City yesterday to rally behind the current administration, which has been rocked by destabilization rumors and corruption allegations.

Actor-turned-politician Pampanga Gov. Lito Lapid and presidential son and Vice Governor Mikey Arroyo led the charge of their cabalens, who were joined by Olongapo and Caloocan City groups that arrived at around noon on air-conditioned buses and jeepneys, causing heavy traffic at the northbound lane of EDSA near Camp Aguinaldo.

Lapid and Caloocan City Mayor Rey Malonzo, both Lakas partymates of Mrs. Arroyo, denied that the gathering was part of attempts by the Office of the President to cover up the controversy involving First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

Political leaders from Pampanga, Caloocan and Olongapo took turns in entertaining the crowd amid the afternoon drizzle.

Apart from umbrellas, the rallyists carried placards and streamers with the words "Democracy, not Kudeta," No to Mutiny, Yes to Unity" and "We Love GMA." They introduced themselves as members of the Coalition for the Advancement of the Promises at EDSA (CARE).

Lapid and Malonzo joined in urging the detractors of the current administration to stop all forms of politicking to allow the country’s damaged economy to improve.

"Ang mga investors nating galing sa ibang bansa, natatakot magkaroon ng kudeta. Ang panawagan namin dito para sa peace na lang sana. Magsamasama na muna tayo, malapit na naman ang eleksyon," Lapid said.

The governor said the march was an initiative of local government executives who have the backing of barangay leaders and their constituents.

"Kami lang ang nagkasama-sama sa Pampanga kasi wala nang nangyayari dahil palagi nakatutok sa TV ang mga tao at hindi na nagtratrabaho ang nasa Senado. Tigilan na at may korte naman," he said.

Although Lapid denied that the groups were also throwing their support for the embattled First Gentleman, he said all charges against him should just be brought to the court.

"Dapat sa korte na lang pagusapan, nagugulo na ang sambayanang Pilipino," he said.

Lapid also addressed the crowd in Kapampangan as he called for unity.

"Misasang metung tamu, eta padala kareng manirakang gobyerno. Panayan tana mu ing 2004 election ban kanita mesilung ya ing kabyan, Mabuhay tamu (Let us be united and let us stop attacking the administration. Just wait for the 2004 elections)," he said. Visitors from the north

The Capampangans and other rallyists from various parts of Central Luzon earlier assembled at the Paskuhan Village yesterday for the rally at the EDSA. Despite heavy rains and flooding in some parts of the Central Luzon, at least 5,000 arrived at the Paskuhan Village near the North Luzon Expressway after Capampangan leaders formed CARE amid "destabilization moves against democracy."

"We will hold fort at EDSA indefinitely if needed to protect our democracy from the ravages of mutiny, coup, or military junta. Enough is enough," said Angeles City councilor Alex Cauguiran, one of the CARE organizers, even as he stressed that the new movement is devoid of politics.

Members of various private sector groups, including senior citizens, arrived at the Paskuhan in raincoats and with umbrellas and boarded vehicles provided by local businessmen for the trip to the EDSA shrine.

Cauguiran said political leaders in Pampanga have crossed party lines to unite in support of CARE. Among those who braved the rains to join the thousands who had assembled at Paskuhan were Lakas, Nationalist People’s Coalition, and Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino stalwarts in the province, including Gov. Lito Lapid, Vice Gov. Mikey Arroyo, Rep. Oscar Rodriguez, all of Lakas and NPC provincial head Rep. Zenaida Ducut.

Cauguiran said that the rally at the EDSA shrine was a "move to prevent possible power grab by forces opposed to democracy."

CARE convenors met Tuesday night to map out plans for yesterday’s EDSA rally after they got reports the other night that a number of middle and senior grade military and police officers were hatching another coup attempt.

"CARE is an initiative of various sectors, it is not pro-anybody but pro-democracy. It just so happened that our political leaders are united in fighting for the preservation of democratic institution in our country. We cannot let disgruntled military officers take over our country and deprive us of our democracy," he added. – With Ric Sapnu

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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