, July 16, 2005
(STAR) Supporters of President Arroyo unveiled plans yesterday to strike back at the opposition with a massive weekend rally that they hope will dwarf a recent people power-style attempt calling for her resignation over vote-rigging allegations.

Pulling off a huge turnout could be crucial for Mrs. Arroyo, who for the past six weeks has been trying to survive her worst political crisis.

Protests have been powerful tools in ousting Philippine presidents, and Mrs. Arroyo needs to mobilize her own backers to show that a big chunk of the populace wants her to keep her job.

Yesterday, hundreds of left-wing activists chanting "Gloria, get out!" and "Oust Gloria!" tried to approach Malacañang Palace, but were stopped by police.

Some of the women protesters danced to the beat of drums while carrying brooms to "sweep" Mrs. Arroyo out of office.

Organizers of today’s rally at Rizal Park say they aim to draw 200,000 people — five times more than the 40,000 who joined Wednesday’s anti-Arroyo demonstration in Makati City’s financial district, the biggest anti-Arroyo rally so far.

The late Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass at Rizal Park in January 1995 where close to five million people attended the biggest in his papacy.

Organizers include religious groups and local government leaders.

The pro-Arroyo rally could easily attract tens of thousands of people, including government workers who could be required to attend.

"The weekend rally will be attended by peace-loving citizens who wish to see that constitutional processes are followed in resolving the raging political conflict dividing the country, rather than resorting to extra-constitutional schemes that would lead to bigger problems," Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, an Arroyo ally, said in a statement.

Yesterday, the Manila city council passed a resolution expressing support for Mrs. Arroyo and another urging Filipinos to "adhere to the Constitution, the principles of due process and the rule of law in the present political crisis besetting our nation, and to appeal that any major political change in national leadership must follow strictly the Constitution."

Metro Manila police chief Director Vidal Querol said 500 police officers will be deployed to keep out troublemakers and prevent terrorists from taking advantage of the situation.

Traffic will be rerouted to avoid traffic jams, said Western Police District director Chief Superintendent Pedro Bulaong.

Mrs. Arroyo’s political crisis erupted last month after recordings of wiretapped phone conversations materialized in which she was heard talking to an election official before all the votes were counted in the May 2004 presidential election.

She has denied manipulating the ballot count and steadfastly resisted opposition calls to resign despite the mass resignation a week ago of 10 Cabinet members.

Mrs. Arroyo has said she would be willing to face an impeachment trial, and the opposition suggested it would consider that option. — AP, Non Alquitran, Evelyn Macairan

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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