MANILA,  April 30, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva - Three years after storming the gates of Malacañang, the participants of the infamous EDSA III returned to the scene of the riot in peace and sat down for breakfast with President Arroyo.

Supporters of ousted President Joseph Estrada who rose up against Mrs. Arroyo in the infamous Labor Day riots of 2001 have made a turnaround and gave Mrs. Arroyo their support.

Those who laid siege to Malacañang three years ago found the Palace gates open to them. They ate a breakfast of baked macaroni, Russian salad and pan de sal buns filled with ham with the President.

Elvira Hidalgo led the participants of the siege of Malacañang in presenting the President with a briefly worded manifesto, signed by 12 of Hidalgo’s fellow EDSA III protesters, stating their support for the holding of clean and honest elections on May 10.

Hidalgo’s group was part of the Katipunan ng Manggagawa as Daungan (Kamada) and the emergency medical services (EMS) groups that joined the 2001 riots.

The manifesto also stated that these people will not join any of the violent protests allegedly planned by the opposition as part of their Labor Day celebrations.

Mrs. Arroyo’s "reconciliation" breakfast with them took place two days before the third anniversary of the uprising that had brought these Estrada supporters, mostly from urban poor groups, to Malacañang with the intent of storming the Palace.

Written in Filipino, the manifesto presented by Hidalgo’s group said they express their "desire and participation in honest elections this May, 2004."

They vowed to "avoid any kind of participation in any gathering that will hamper the order and progress of our country and we pledge support for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other endeavors for the good of the Filipino nation."

Hidalgo said they went to see Mrs. Arroyo on their own volition to thank her for giving them a second chance through the government’s livelihood assistance to their families.

Hidalgo said she, her husband and children were among the 60 rioters who were arrested and brought to Camp Crame, where they were detained on rebellion charges after they joined the Labor Day siege of Malacañang.

She was accompanied by Ricardo Convicto, Armando Basco, Lovell Agnes, Grace Escaro, Aresio Pacanor, Alfredo Mahot, Wilfredo Aldabe, Bienvenido Tebia, Roberto Olaibar and Norberto and Rosalinda Donato, all of Caloocan City.

The group was brought to the Palace by presidential campaign spokesman, Mike Defensor, who serves as Mrs. Arroyo’s "emissary" to Estrada in his detention area at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal.

Three other Estrada supporters from Malabon town who signed the manifesto failed to appear at Malacañang and no reason was given for their absence. They are: Maximo Jasmines, Daisy Tumagos and Jerry Lopez.

The EDSA III participants were freed after Mrs. Arroyo ordered government prosecutors to withdraw the rebellion cases against them in the spirit of reconciliation and on the grounds that many of the rioters were misled by unscrupulous politicians identified with Estrada.

The President immediately looked into the plight of the 60 people arrested in the riot and ordered those found positive for illegal drug use to be rehabilitated and those who were wounded in the violence to be brought to hospitals for treatment.

Outgoing Pampanga Gov. Manuel "Lito" Lapid, a stalwart of the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats party now running for senator, had interceded on behalf of the people who stormed the Palace gates.

The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) had ordered the Northern Police District Office (NPDO) in a memorandum to coordinate with barangay officials and invite the EDSA III participants to an audience with the President.

The memorandum said it was the President’s desire to meet with them in the spirit of "national unity."

Ironically, it was the Labor Day siege of Malacañang that has become the subject of study by various internal security groups in their preparations for the May 10 elections.

Estrada is supporting the candidacy of his bosom buddy and Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. — With Jerry Botial

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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