May 2, 2006 (STAR) (AFP) President Gloria Arroyo stressed that she has paid "keen attention" to the demands of labor groups even as tens of thousands of protesters fanned out across the Philippines on Monday, marking Labor Day with a series of demonstrations calling for her ouster.

In the capital, some 5,000 anti-riot police backed by a 2,000-strong military force were on standby to avert any violence, amid intelligence reports that Arroyo's political foes could use the demonstrations to destabilize her government.

Followers of deposed president Joseph Estrada marched from his power center in suburban San Juan district toward the presidential palace, but were blocked by police before reaching their final destination.

Protests were also reported in the cities of Davao in the south and Baguio in the north and attended by at least 10,000 protesters.

There were however no immediate reports of violence, but Metro Manila police chief Vidal Querol warned protesters to "marshall their own ranks against infiltrators and saboteurs".

"I make a point to listen to the people's needs everyday while our destabilizers listen to the call for self-interest and endless strife," Arroyo said.

"To our destabilizers I say: leave the people to do their work and let the president do her job," she said.

San Juan mayor Jose Victor Ejercito, one of Estrada's sons who helped organize the march, accused the Arroyo adminstration of paranoia.

"This administration is paranoid. It does not have the support of the people," he said.

Estrada was ousted by a popular revolt in 2001 and was replaced by Arroyo. His followers tried to storm the presidential palace on May Day five years ago, leaving four dead in the ensuing violence.

On Monday, a small group of laid-off telecom workers slipped through a tight security cordon. They reached the gates of the palace before being turned back peacefully.

Empty steel container trucks were used to block roads leading to the gates, while police checkpoints dotted the highways into Manila.

The militant leftist group Bayan rallied several thousand supporters and said it would march on the palace, defying police orders to stay away.

"The nation is united in defiance. We have no choice but to fight back," Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said, calling on Arroyo to step down.

Arroyo in February invoked emergency powers to thwart an alleged coup mounted by communist rebels and disgruntled military officers.

Police had warned of "residual threats" to Arroyo's presidency, but her chief of staff Michael Defensor said Monday it was unlikely she would declare a fresh state of emergency, appealing to protesters to remain peaceful.

Three communist New People's Army (NPA) rebels meanwhile were arrested Sunday as police went on full alert ahead of the protests.

GMA meets with call center employees on Labor Day 05/01 1:50:26 PM

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo began her series of official activities lined up in observance of Labor Day today with a breakfast meeting with officials and employees of one of the fastest-growing business enterprises in the country – the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

Accompanied by Labor and Employment Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, the President motored to a Starbucks Coffee outlet located at the ground floor of the Emerald Building at the Ortigas Center in Pasig City, where she had breakfast of coffee and croissant pastries with officials and staff of ClientLogic Philippines, one of the country’s top call center companies.

President Arroyo spent around 45 minutes conversing with ClientLogic’s training manager Chie Fillon, coach Melanie Ann Sevilla, technical support representative Opalyn dela Cruz, operations manager Saide Yu, senior operations manager Mitch Galutera, and country manager Dan Reyes.

The discussion centered on concerns of call center employees regarding the availability of transportation facilities that will shuttle them between their places of work and residences and vice versa.

The employees said that commuting to and from their work stations to their domiciles becomes a hindrance to their efficiency, especially during the graveyard shift when it is more dangerous to travel.

The President said she would soon be announcing a program jointly funded by the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) that would allow call center companies and other enterprises involved in what she calls "night economy" businesses to purchase buses that run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), a form of alternative fuel that is cheaper than conventional diesel fuel.

"Land Bank and the DBP will be opening a facility for employers and also groups of workers to buy CNG buses and other buses using cheaper fuels so that they (buses) can be used for shuttle service," she said.

The President noted that companies which have shifting schedules because their operations require them to be available 24 hours a day seven days a week have been a "catalyst" in the propagation of the night economy business phenomenon.

The Chief Executive is a staunch supporter of the BPO industry which, she said, has grown by leaps and bounds with regards to the number of people hired and income generated.

"In 2001, the industry was just beginning. At that time there were less than 2,000 workers in the industry. Now, after five years, there are more than a hundred thousand workers employed in the industry," the President said.

"We double that every year. Like now, we have 100,000 and in 2007 we get 200,000 and 400,000 in 2008, then becomes 800,000 in 2009 and more than a million by the time I finish my term," she added.

ClientLogic is a subsidiary of a Canadian diversified company with business points throughout North America, Europe and Asia. It is among the top five global contact center providers managing more than 140 million customer interactions since 2003.

It offers an international suite of services, including integrated customer acquisition, lease management and brokerage, database design and development, multi-channel customer and tech support (fax, e-mail, chat, self-help, and others), e-commerce services and warehousing fulfillment.

Police block thousands of protesters from marching to Malacañang 05/01 6:55:21 PM

MANILA (AP) - Police blocked thousands of May Day protesters who defied a ban and marched to the presidential palace Monday to demand a wage hike and President Gloria Arroyo's ouster.

Government troops and police, on the highest state of security alert, had banned protests near Malacañang Palace for security reasons and amid rumors of a coup against Arroyo, who has been grappling with widespread calls for her resignation over vote-rigging and corruption allegations.

On Monday, after holding May Day rallies in nearby parks, about 7,000 left-wing laborers and followers of ousted President Joseph Estrada marched down a narrow avenue toward the historic Mendiola bridge near the palace, carrying a huge red streamer that read: "Down with Gloria!"

But they were blocked by riot policemen with truncheons, shields, chest armor and hardhats, according to police and TV footage.

The two sides started pushing each other at one point, but were pacified.

Striking PLDT workers penetrate presidential security cordon 05/01 3:41:28 PM

Thirty workers from the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) disguised themselves as parishioners at the nearby St. Jude Church to sneak through a police barricade to gain access to Malacañang.

Despite some 300 anti-riot police manning the barricades at Mendiola Bridge, the workers almost made it to the presidential palace before they were turned back. The workers' group wanted President Gloria Arroyo to intervene in their labor dispute with the management of the telecommunications company.

The group cited a return-to-work court order to PLDT by the Supreme Court involving 500 workers laid off in 2002.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved