KASAMA Vol. 11 No. 3 / July-August-September 1997 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
NO CHA-CHA! No to Charter Change!
PO Box SM 193
Sta. Mesa, Manila, Philippines
Coinciding with the September 21 rallies, President Ramos announced - for the nth time! - that he really would not seek a second term in 1998. And, based on the results of a grassroots consultation hastily conducted, in which the majority expressed opposition against Charter change, or "Cha-cha", he declared that there would be no Cha-cha before 1998.
But, the President suddenly came up with a proposal to coincide the 1998 elections with the election of the members of the constitutional convention that will work for Cha-cha after 1998. Well, according to the government, coinciding the exercise will save some millions of pesos!
Today, 23rd September, the Supreme Court rejected PIRMA's petition for reconsideration of their so-called "people's initiative" to reform the Constitution, wherein the group purportedly gathered some 6 million signatures in support of amending the Charter.
Today also, oil has increased by 50 centavos per liter. You can expect the price of all other things to rise up in the coming days! Please take note, the oil industry has been deregulated, water and electricity too; and next on the line are the hospitals.
Following are some newspaper accounts of the Anti-Charter Change, or "NO CHA-CHA", events held around the country and the rally in Manila led by Cory and the Cardinal. With the numbers that responded in the provinces, well over a million Filipinos took to the streets nationally to say "NO!"
600,000 ATTEND RIZAL PARK RALLY: It was Cory magic all over.
In a lustily applauded address that called to mind her stirring speech at Rizal Park when she challenged Ferdinand Marcos for the presidency in 1986, former president Corazon Aquino rallied all Filipinos against attempts of those in power who tinker with the Constitution to suit their self-interest.
To people "who want to stay in power, by martial law or Charter change," Ms. Aquino sent this clear and firm message: "No way and never again. Do your worst, we will do our best to stop you. And we, the people, will prevail." Variations of the message resonated through most of her 10-minute speech, and the crowd of about 600,000 agreed resoundingly by applauding it more than a dozen times.
She had a specific and equally clear message for President Ramos to let go when his term ends. But the message was not harsh. It was more of a gentle but earnest admonition to the man whom she anointed as her successor five years ago.
She coupled it with a strong reminder, not just to Ramos but also to those who want him to stay longer in office for a job well done. "Doing your job well was your duty and not a special favor for the country."
This portion of her speech was met with wild applause. Journalists in the audience noted that even leftist groups, united briefly with moderate forces in a common stand against Charter change, also applauded.
Pres. Ramos, who watched a live TV coverage of the rally, later issued a statement urging everyone to "go back to work and move on," after the mass action.
"Let me thank the Filipino people for coming out and exercising their sovereign right to assemble peacefully and to be heard," he said.
The President extended his thanks to Ms Aquino and Cardinal Sin for their messages of "reconciliation, humility, forgiveness and unity."
Cardinal Sin delivered the homily at a Mass preceding Ms Aquino's address in which he hailed the people as heroes for firmly rejecting an "immoral change" of the Constitution at this time. "If in the heat of our passionate love for our country and for our democracy, words have been exchanged which have caused undue personal hurt, we humbly ask the Lord and each affected person, including the President, for forgiveness," Sin said.
Earlier, Ramos said he was not seeking a term extension and that he was pushing for a constitutional convention to discuss amendments after the 1998 elections. Sin's apology, however, strained the shaky alliance between the Left and the Church.
"If they stop and believe Ramos, we will continue to fight against Charter," said Satur Ocampo, former spokesperson of the NDF [National Democratic Front].
Fidel Agcaoili, head of the NDF's negotiating panel on human rights, said the Left's "objective alliance" with the Church and conservatives would endure only if the latter stands against amending the Constitution.
Ocampo and Agcaoili said the lifting of term limits was just one of the dangers posed by pro-amendment forces. They said the Left's basic opposition to Charter change lay in the administration's alleged plan to redefine the national patrimony, clip the powers of the Supreme Court, and fully liberalize the economy, among other things.
Sin said the people should be "thankful" that their prayers were answered and their actions rewarded. "(Mr. Ramos) has directed his partymates to shelve legislative moves for a constituent assembly. He has acknowledged that the people prefer a constitutional convention after the 1998 elections," Sin noted. The Cardinal is still convinced that Ramos will provide the leadership necessary for the nation to face its problems, including the "suddenly downward economy."
Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of people poured into plazas, churches and streets in a massive show of force against Charter change and dictatorship. Church leaders spearheaded the protest actions. Local officials joined them but were kept from taking center stage to avoid giving the activities partisan color.
In Davao City, protesters gathered at the Rizal Park in what organizers considered as the biggest multisectoral gathering since the fall of the Marcos regime in 1986.
"We came here freely, we did not come here for a fee," said Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla, wearing a bishop's robe and a baseball cap. [Capalla was alluding to the crowd that welcomed the President’s arrival in the city the previous day in support of extending his stay in power.]
Unlike the President's crowd which had to be cued to applaud, yesterday's rally was festive and freewheeling and the crowd cheered lustily when other marchers arrived at the park.
In Iligan City, some 10,000 people occupied the entire city plaza. Protest leaders said they were not convinced by the President's assurances that he would step down next year.
In Cagayan de Oro City, at least 90% of the city's public transportation was paralyzed as most jeepney drivers joined the protests.
Thousands also packed the St. Augustine Cathedral, where Msgr Rey Manuel Mansueto, vicar general of the Cagayan de Oro Catholic Archdiocese, called on the people to oppose moves to allow the President to stay in power beyond 1998. About a third of those attending the Mass came from nearby Misamis Oriental towns, arriving as early as 7 a.m. in motor caravans.
Hundreds attended similar rallies in Pagadian City and Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur, and in Dipolog City.
In South Cotabato, Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said some 100,000 gathered at the Oval plaza in Gen. Santos City. Others placed the crowd at 50,000-70,000.
Some 1,000 placard-bearing farmers marched around Ozamis City and joined the protesters at the Ozamis Cathedral.
In the Visayas, some 300,000 people joined protest actions against Charter amendments in Cebu, Iloilo, Bacolod, Tagbilaran, Dumaguete, Roxas, Calbayog and Kalibo. The biggest crowd was at the Cebu City Sports Center, where Cebu Archbishop Ricardo, Cardinal Vidal and some 500 priests officiated a Mass attended by tens of thousands of people.
In Bacolod City, thousands gathered at the public plaza to say, "No to another term for the President and a return to dictatorship."
In Kalibo, tens of thousands came in jeeps and trucks from the 17 towns of Aklan to attend a huge prayer rally led by Bishop Gabriel Reyes at the Pastrana Park.
In Tagbilaran, some 3,000 joined in the protest rally led by Bohol Bishop Leopoldo Tumulak at the Carlos P. Garcia Sports Complex.
In Iloilo City, the Rotary Amphitheater overflowed with people from the province's 43 towns in "the biggest mass action in Iloilo since the Edsa Revolution," organizers said. People spilled into the streets as they could no longer be accommodated in the 30,000-capacity structure.
In Roxas City, some 10,000 Capiceños gathered for a prayer rally, described as the "mother of all rallies" in the city. Politicians were allowed to address the crowd.
In Pangasinan, the President's home province, the absence of mass action against Charter change was quite felt. "Our position is very clear. The series of prayer vigils were centered on the call for sobriety and for unity and peace. There is no politics along the line," said Fr. Jonathan Sungcuan of the St. John Cathedral.
But in other parts of Northern and Central Luzon, the protests against Charter change pushed through amid strong rains.
In Baguio City, the Sunday crowd that gathered for the anti-Charter change protests was estimated at 10,000.
In Tuguegarao, Cagayan, close to 10,000 people, among them workers, nuns, priests, students and teachers, gathered in front of the town's Cathedral. They danced and sang after the one-hour march.
In Angeles City, some 4,000 rallyists braved strong rains to dramatize their opposition to Charter change.
Militant groups dominated the rally organized by the Catholic Church-led Contra Cha-cha Pampanga. Orani, Balanga and Mariveles towns also held anti-Charter change protests.
In Bataan, transport groups staged a strike, stranding mostly factory workers at the Bataan Export Processing Zone.
In Laoag City, at least 5,000 people marched around the city led by Bishop Edmundo Abaya of the Laoag Diocese. Children bore placards on the need for an election and for the Constitution to remain.
[Extracts from: Philippine Daily Inquirer, 22 Sept 1997]
SEPTEMBER 21 is no ordinary date for Filipinos. On this day in 1972, Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law. One target in his open authoritarian move was the Constitution of the day which placed a two-term limit on the presidential office.