, February 23, 2006, (MALAYA) SAYING their action is the real "people power," anti-Arroyo groups under the Laban ng Masa Coalition pressed through police lines to gather at the People Power Monument on Edsa yesterday, the first day of the commemoration for the 20th anniversary of People Power revolt that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

Organizers said they numbered 20,000 to 30,000. The police figure was 5,000.

The protesters renewed calls for President Arroyo to resign.

There was a skirmish around 7 p.m. when policemen tried to clear the northbound side of the highway for vehicular traffic.

The rally included the caravan "Pilgrimage of Truth and Reforms" participated in by workers, peasants, youth, fishers and urban poor groups that came from several provinces.

Resigned Social Welfare Secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman said the turnout was proof of genuine people power.

"This is real people power, not like when I was in government when the people would only go out just because we were giving them noodles, rice and PhilHealth cards," Soliman said.

The march started at around 2 p.m. on Edsa Kamuning, where the groups under the Laban ng Masa Coalition like the Akbayan party-list, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Peace Foundation, Alliance of Progressive Labor, Sanlakas, and Kilusang Mangingisda converged.

At around 3 p.m. at the portion of Edsa before the Santolan flyover, some 150 members of the Quezon City Police District blocked the protesters with three trucks and railings.

Supt. Bernabe Balba, chief of the Cubao police station, said they wanted to check if the protesters had a rally permit.

An hour of negotiations followed after the protesters could not show a permit.

Soliman said they did not need any permit as the People Power Monument is a freedom park. "Hindi kailangan ng permit lalo sa unang araw ng ating pagpapatalsik sa diktador," she said.

"It’s ridiculous. It’s the anniversary of Edsa 1 and you cannot go to Edsa People Power Monument?" said Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros.

The police eventually gave way and allowed the protesters proceed to the People Power Monument.

At the monument, some groups from the provinces as far as Davao and Cebu that converged at the Ultra in Pasig joined the delegation from Metro Manila and the nearby provinces.

The entire northbound portion of Edsa was blocked by the protesters.

"There is no reason to celebrate because though the dictatorship has ended in 1986, the government’s negligence to address solutions to the problems of the masses remains the same. The throne still is rotten whoever sits there," said Laban ng Masa chair and former UP President Francisco Nemenzo Jr.

Laban ng Masa has been proposing the establishment of a transitional revolutionary government.

"This new type of government will not like be that of the past regimes that wasted several opportunities to institute genuine reforms for the lives of the people," Nemenzo said. "The next people power should constitute genuine social change, not just regime change."

Sanlakas president Wilson Fortaleza said Arroyo represented the biggest farce of what Edsa had become when she told the Foreign Correspondents Association Tuesday that she is the best person to lead the country now.

"She is a cheat, a certified anti-poor and the most qualified CEO of the elite. She is therefore the antithesis for the real meaning of Edsa People Power," Fortaleza said.

President Fidel Ramos paid tribute to the sacrifices of the members of the Armed Forces who went against Marcos during Edsa 1 but chided politicians, including Arroyo, for downplaying the event.

"Wag po nating kalimutan na kung hindi umalsa ang mga militar at kapulisan, kung hindi nagtulong-tulong ang mga rebeldeng sundalo at pulis at ang ating milyon-milyong concerned citizens kahit na gaano kahaba ang protesta at pagdarasal palagay ko ay di ito magtatagumpay," said Ramos, who was guest of honor at the Edsa photo exhibit at the Glorietta Mall in Makati.

"Sa mga susunod na taon, wala ng magtatalumpati sa harap ninyo bagama’t yan ang tungkulin ng ating mga hinalal na opisyal. Nasaan sila? Nagtatago. They are escaping to avoid other leaders kasi di sila nagkakaisa. President Arroyo and some others are avoiding the event," he said.

President Corazon Aquino, who has been calling for Arroyo’s resignation, will attend several events, including a wreath laying ceremony at the foot of the Edsa Shrine and at the Ninoy Aquino monument in Ayala, Makati.

Ramos said some politicians are attempting to create a division within the AFP and the PNP.

"The agenda of these politicians are unfair to the soldiers and the police. They are undermanned and not properly equipped. Their combined numbers today are just a little over what were the numbers 20 years ago. They are simply overworked," he said.

Aquino reiterated her call for the truth behind allegations that Arroyo cheated in the May 2004 elections to ensure her victory.

"As we celebrate the People Power anniversary I want to remind all of us that each of us Filipinos has the role to play that if we truly love our country, then let us all work together in the search for the truth," she said after a meeting with the Makati Business Club at the Manila Peninsula Hotel.

She said the investigation into the "Hello Garci" wiretapped conversations between Arroyo and former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano should continue, adding only after the truth comes out can the country move forward.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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