, October 6, 2005
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo plans to meet regularly at Malacañang with leaders of cause-oriented groups and other sectors to stave off violent anti-government rallies, according to National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales.

In an interview in his tightly guarded room at the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City Wednesday, Gonzales said Mrs. Arroyo had ordered him to organize regular dialogues with the leaders of anti-government protesters.

"If these were normal times, rallies could always be held practically anywhere," he told The STAR.

"But these are not normal times. But I told the President we cannot shut them out. We have to know what their issues are."

Gonzales said he had issued a memorandum to Mrs. Arroyo last Sept. 30, recommending that she hold regular dialogues at Malacañang with protesters to help defuse tension and for appropriate action to be taken on their legitimate concerns.

"We cannot ignore the issues they are raising," he said. "Some of them (issues) may be too much, but the others are legitimate. It is important that we know what they are."

Gonzales said some political leaders who profess to speak for the people have not been effective in conveying the true sentiments of their constituents to the national government.

"‘Okay, execute’ was the written reply of Mrs. Arroyo to (my) memo of Oct. 3," he said.

Gonzales, a former activist, said that most of the present protest rallies are "dubious" as they are either infiltrated by outsiders or a mix of opposing groups bent on overthrowing the government. "I’ve been there. I know."

The same strategy of holding Palace meetings was used during the presidency of former President Corazon Aquino and has been effective in defusing tension and addressing the concerns of the cause-oriented groups, he added.

Meanwhile, the House committee on national defense and security said yesterday the calibrated preemptive response (CPR) policy does not allow police to engage in violence against protesters.

But committee members also called on rallyists to police their own ranks and to hold mass actions during hours and in venues less disruptive to the public.

Davao City Rep. Vincent Garcia, committee vice chairman, said the Philippine National Police should work to correct misimpressions about the CPR instead of agitating more opposition to it.

"In the first place, the CPR does not give the cops the license to make the rallyists their punching bags," he said. At this time when the political situation is still critical, the PNP must dispel the (wrong) impression that the CPR is intended to stifle dissent."

Parañaque Rep. Eduardo Zialcita, a member of the defense committee, said the injuring of rallyists runs counter to the CPR’s objective to maintain law and order, reduce disruption in travel and commerce, and protect rallies from provocateurs and infiltrators.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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