Macapagal blames foes for violent Wednesday protest

By Juliet Labog-Javellana and Armand N. Nocum

Desperate measures

PRESIDENT Macapagal-Arroyo on Thursday blamed "unscrupulous political leaders" for egging on the poor to stage Wednesday's protest rally in Makati City -- even as ousted President Joseph Estrada literally distanced himself from the mass action.

"I have nothing to do with that. I'm too far away from them," Estrada said, speaking from Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, where he is detained on plunder and graft charges.

In a telephone interview with the Inquirer, Estrada strongly condemned the violent dispersal of about 10,000 protesters calling for the ouster of Ms Macapagal and Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr.

But Ms Macapagal justified the dispersal, and attacked the organizers of the protest.

"I am saddened that our people are obviously being misled out of desperation by some plotters of destabilization," she said at the De La Salle University symposium in Dasmarinas, Cavite.

Ms Macapagal did not name names but, speaking in Filipino, she expressed dismay that "unscrupulous political leaders" were using the poor as "cannon fodder" for destabilization, saying this deprived them of their dignity as human beings.

"We should have unity and reconciliation based on respect for the dignity of the masses and a healthy respect for their constructive role in society," she said.

Ms Macapagal said her enemies had "exploited the emotions generated by the impeachment crisis and the Naia siege" to try to bring her government down. She was referring to the Davide impeachment crisis and the brief takeover of the Naia control tower.

While her administration respects and upholds the full expression of civil rights, "we cannot allow anyone to cross the line of public order because of the harm wrought upon the general welfare," Ms Macapagal said.

"In the spirit of democracy, a permit was given for the rally until 5 p.m. and maximum tolerance was observed during that time frame," she said.

When their time was up, she said, Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay and the police authorities had to "act to restore order in the streets."

"And they were called upon, they did their duty, they dispersed the rally. And I thank Mayor Binay for making that judgment call in the interest of public welfare," she said.

Estrada said his supporters went to the rally on their own initiative, the same way they did during the so-called Edsa III in 2001.

"It was a spontaneous action on their part," he said of the protesters. "Why blame me? The problem with them (the government) is they are always looking for someone to blame when people protest against them," he said.


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