, FEBRUARY 13, 2007 (STAR) By Jose Rodel Clapano - The United Opposition (UNO) starts this Friday a series of protest rallies calling for the resignation of President Arroyo.

In a telephone interview with The STAR, former ambassador and Senate president Ernesto Maceda said the protest rally will start at 4 p.m. in front of the Ninoy Aquino monument in Makati City.

Meanwhile, former President Corazon Aquino is calling for support and prayers for embattled Senate witness Rodolfo Lozada Jr.

In a text message, Mrs. Aquino said, “Please join us for the Mass for Jun Lozada and his family on Sunday, Feb. 17 at 10 a.m. in La Salle Greenhills gym. Fr. Manoling Francisco S.J. will lead us in the Eucharistic Celebration.”

Maceda, a member of UNO’s committee of elders, said that the opposition has agreed to hold mass protests to intensify the call for the President to step down amid allegations of high-level corruption in her administration. Maceda said Mrs. Arroyo’s days are numbered.

“We feel that probably, it is safe to bet that she will not last for another six months in office,” Maceda said.

He said the opposition’s number one fear, however, is that the military headed by Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. may skirt the Constitution and form a military junta.

“A military junta is a continuing fear because Esperon has a new program called Hakot-Hatak to install himself as the new leader. We hope that if we get the people’s support, the possibility of the military taking advantage of the situation would be thwarted,” Maceda said.

Maceda said the opposition is considering two possible scenarios: “One is for both Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro to step down and declare the presidential and vice presidential positions vacant then call for a snap elections. Second is that if De Castro stays, he will call for snap elections for the presidency,” he said.

“But we have not agreed on that yet. Our initial objective is to demand that GMA (Arroyo) resign and action be taken on exposés of high-level corruption. The leftist group, on the other hand, are bringing (up) the issue of rampant extrajudicial killings,” Maceda added.

Maceda said that several opposition congressmen and leaders attended their meeting last Monday, among them Satur Ocampo, Crispin Beltran and Liza Maza and former Vice President Teofisto Guingona.

Maceda said that aside from massive protests, opposition lawmakers will be delivering privilege speeches before the House of Representatives and the Senate to call for Mrs. Arroyo’s ouster.

Pardoned former President Joseph Estrada, however, said he will not join the rallies.

“There are already many of them. I will not be joining the rallies. But definitely I support their objective,” Estrada told The STAR.

But Maceda clarified that Estrada and former President Corazon Aquino will only be absent at the initial stage of the protest actions.

Meantime, Malacañang yesterday called for sobriety in connection with the ongoing Senate investigation into the scrapped $329-million national broadband network (NBN) deal that triggered fresh protest actions pressing for President Arroyo’s ouster.

Vice President De Castro, for his part, said he is also very interested in getting to the bottom of the controversy but he would not be joining rallies.

“Like all of us, we are also interested in finding out the truth but if we let emotions prevail, we might make a mistake and regret it later. So there is no need for me to make noise, I will just observe what happens,” De Castro said in Filipino.

He dismissed opposition calls for snap elections as there are no vacancies in the posts of President and Vice President.

“I will not comment on calls for the President to resign because I could be a beneficiary. But as long as everything is done within the Constitution, I will not kill myself just to get to some post,” De Castro said.

Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Lorelei Fajardo said the government fully respects the right of the people to stage protests. “However, they should temper their action with positive action and denounce any attempt of any group to use or be used to destabilize the government.”

She said there was no reason for Mrs. Arroyo to resign since she was not linked to the alleged anomalies in the NBN project.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, in separate interviews, downplayed the threats of mass protest actions but said the government is ready for any eventuality.

“You can be sure the opposition will take advantage of the situation but that’s still normal as far as politics is concerned,” Ermita said.

He said calls for Mrs. Arroyo’s ouster were “old music and I don’t think it’s cause for any surprise.” – With Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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