MANILA, OCTOBER 19, 2003  (STAR) By Pia Lee-Brago and Katherine Adraneda  - Thousands of anti-US protesters took to the streets yesterday and burned hundreds of US flags along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City to denounce the arrival of US President George W. Bush for an eight-hour state visit.

The bonfire was the culmination of the burning of one American flag every hour since Friday night.

About 10,000 protesters from Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Gabriela, Courage, Karapatan, Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace, Selda, First Quarter Storm Movement, Migrante, Anakpawis and other militant groups chanted, "Imperialismo ibagsak! (Down with imperialism!)," "US imperialist No. 1 terrorist" and "George Bush go away, isama mo na si GMA (bring GMA with you)."

After burning the flags, the protesters tried to march to the House of Representatives at the Batasang Pambansa complex where President Bush was to deliver a mid-afternoon address, but were blocked by riot police.

National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Deputy Director General Reynaldo Velasco affirmed that the eight-hour visit of Bush to the country was generally peaceful with the various groups abiding by the regulations set by the Metro Manila police.

"I’m glad that our police have maintained peace and order situation in containing the protesters," Velasco said, adding that maximum tolerance was implemented all throughout the Bush visit.

The US Air Force One that carried the US president and his wife, First Lady Laura Bush, touched down at the Aegis airport at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City at around 12:20 p.m. yesterday.

More than 11,000 policemen secured Metro Manila as he arrived amid fears of a terrorist attack.

Bush’s visit was, however, welcomed by about 50 pro-US demonstrators who were herded into a building near the US Embassy after they held an overnight party for the president across the street from the mission.

The area was declared off-limits to traffic within a one-kilometer radius, as were those around Malacañang Palace, less than three kilometers away.

The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said that militant groups led by Bayan Muna started congregating at around 8:38 a.m. at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. They were later joined by other militant groups at the Ever Gotesco-Commonwealth. By 11:23 a.m. or an hour before Bush arrived, the MMDA Metrobase said their number reached close to 10,000.

Waving anti-US placards and streamers saying "Ban Bush" and "Bush No. 1 terrorist," the protesters also handed out Legislation Against War (Law) pins and a statement by the exiled communist rebel leader Jose Maria Sison that urged Filipinos to join mass actions and burn US flags.

"The imperialist master is on a rendezvous with his most servile puppet in Southeast Asia in order to exchange flatteries and celebrate their obscene relationship," Sison alleged.

The Left wants President Arroyo to cut Manila’s mutual defense treaty with Washington and expel small numbers of US troops training Filipino soldiers in the southern Philippines.

Bayan secretary general Teodoro Casiño announced that Bayan Muna Representatives Satur Ocampo, Crispin Beltran and Liza Maza walked out of the session hall of the House of Representatives when Bush began to deliver his speech.

Ocampo said their act was within the bounds of propriety as House members.

The protesters left the area after the announcement of the three party-list representatives’ walkout and proceeded to Mendiola for a "People’s Fiesta and Street Dinner" as Malacañang also gave a state banquet for the US president and his entourage.

Meanwhile, at the Elliptical Road in Quezon City, about 500 militants held a mock wedding of the two presidents, whom they called "partners in crime." They said the wedding symbolizes the renewal of vows of state terrorism and globalization.

Mrs. Arroyo was depicted as the willing bride, wearing a white gown and a veil showered with dollar bills and holding a vegetable bouquet while Bush was donned with the traditional Americana.

The Citizen’s Action party (Akbayan) criticized the glaring display of the close US-RP ties with the visit of Bush, asserting that the alliance "has been historically disadvantageous to the Philippines."

"Time and again the US has made the Philippines into a willing pawn to advance interest," said Akbayan president Ronald Lamas.

For its part, Sanlakas brought with them a six-meter long cockroach effigy of Bush, which they burned during Bush’s speech before the joint session of Congress at the Batasan complex.

Sanlakas said they believed the visit of the US president was not a "feast" but a "pest" for the country. Other groups that participated in the demonstration were the Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Sanlakas, Alliance for Progressive Labor.

A minor conflict between members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the protesters erupted because of the traffic jam caused by the demonstrators. The rallyists ate almost half of the road that narrowed the lane for passing vehicles.

Truckloads of police officers arrived at the area to split the rallyists in two to clear the traffic but this briefly created tension.

Militant labor groups assailed the government for the "exaggerated blockade and use of force" against those protesting the visit.

According to the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) secretary general Jose Maglunsod, the police over-reacted to the protests.

"Workers have all the right to demonstrate against Bush and Arroyo. It is our legitimate and democratic right to disapprove policies that do not benefit the majority of the people," Maglunsod noted.

Bayan’s Casiño, however, noted that the nationally coordinated protest was a "big success." No untoward incident happened despite the plans of police authorities to disperse the rallyists at 1:30 p.m.

As the militants ranted and raved in the streets, thousands of households were monitoring the event peacefully on radio or television. Regular broadcasts were interrupted yesterday to pave the way for a special live coverage of the Bush visit.

Filipinos were actually encouraged to stay home and watch the historic event on television so as not to contribute to the traffic woes that may be encountered because of the traffic re-routing.

MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando said they fielded their 2,000-strong traffic enforcers in various parts of the metropolis to clear the way for the Bush delegation. — with reports from Christina Mendez, Sheila Crisostomo, Evelyn Macairan, Mike Frialde, Pamela Samia, AP, AFP


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