Thousands of protesters rallied in Manila on Friday against moves by allies of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to revise the constitution to allow her to stay in power beyond 2010.
Police said around 6,500 activists, students, opposition politicians and Catholic clergy converged on the city’s business district, site of many anti-government protests in the past.
Analysts said the demonstration was unlikely to have a major impact on the country’s political stability as the protest was considerably smaller than the last anti-Arroyo rally in February that drew about 30,000 protesters.
“I don’t want Cha-Cha because it would prolong her stay in power,” Necitas Feliciano, a 59-year-old garment worker, said as she marched with a group of women carrying placards that read “Masses oppose Charter Change”.
“We want elections in 2010 so that we can get her out.”
Arroyo, who survived at least three attempted coups and four impeachment attempts on allegations of corruption, human rights abuse and vote fraud, must leave office in 2010 under the rules of the constitution.
But her allies in the 238-member House of Representatives have begun moves to amend the charter. Members of the Senate, however, have passed a resolution opposing the amendments.
The protesters, mostly in yellow and red shirts, marched to the beat of drums and carried placards and streamers opposing moves to rewrite the constitution “The people have spoken,” Teodoro Casino, a left-wing member of the lower house of Congress, said at the rally. “Back off administration congressmen, be warned. You’re putting the Arroyo regime on the brink of ouster.”
Although deeply unpopular, Arroyo appears secure because of a divided opposition, public weariness of political upheaval, and her careful courting of the military, lawmakers and local officials, analysts said.
Arroyo, who gained political strength after a Senate coup last month gave her control of both houses of the legislature, has been silent on the issue of charter changes although she has allowed her allies to debate on the proposal.
“Mrs. Arroyo was able to stay in power because she has the majority in the House of Representatives,” said Benito Lim, political science professor at Ateneo de Manila University.
“Mrs. Arroyo is not known to listen to the wishes of the people,” Lim said. “She is more known to pursue her own agenda.”
Former President Joseph Estrada, who was ousted in 2001 in a people’s revolt, warned Arroyo could face the people’s wrath if she did not heed calls to stop moves to change the constitution.
“The time is not ripe yet to remove her from power, but this issue could trigger a popular revolt similar to what we have seen in Bangkok last month,” Estrada told Reuters in an interview.
Around 1 million people took to the streets to overthrow dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and up to half a million helped oust Estrada in 2001.