THOUSANDS of people gathered at the Luneta Park in Manila on Saturday to show support for President Rodrigo Duterte’s war against illegal drugs, poverty and corruption.
Police said the crowd that gathered at the Quirino Grandstand numbered more than 15,000 in contrast to the 2,300 that flocked to the Edsa Shrine in Quezon City to mark the 31st anniversary of the 1986 People Power uprising.
The Luneta rally was only one of several gatherings that were organized by the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte National Executive Coordinating Council (MRRD-NECC) in Davao, Cebu, Iloilo and Bacolod.
Duterte himself skipped the Luneta rally but several members of his Cabinet—Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon—attended the event which was more like a religious rather than a political gathering.
DILG Undersecretary John Castriciones, secretary general of MRRD-NECC, was also present as was Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia and Bacoor Mayor Lani Mercado-Revilla.
Aguirre appeared beside himself as he spoke to the crowd a day after the incarceration of Senator Leila de Lima.
“Sino ang gusto niyo isunod? [Who do you want next?]” Aguirre asked the crowd, mostly wearing red and white, which shouted back: “Trillanes!”
At the Edsa Monument, former President Benigno Aquino III made a rare public appearance to mark the 1986 revolt but key players of the uprising—former President Fidel Ramos and former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and members of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement were nowhere in sight.
Aquino was wearing black instead of his signature yellow and led a crowd, mostly of young people, that began to thin at dusk as more people arrived at the Quirino Grandstand.
Earlier Saturday, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella urged Filipinos to imbibe the spirit of Edsa but warned against political opportunists.
“We need people who are truly and sincerely patriotic, nation builders and somebody who takes advantage of political position for their own advancement,” he added.
“President Duterte had imbibed the spirit [and] the intent of Edsa, but not the politics,” Abella said in an interview with state radio dzRB.
Abella echoed the earlier remarks of presidential daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, who on Friday lashed at Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas for pontificating on the meaning of Edsa.
“I find it hard to understand why this bloodless revolution has become the standard definition of freedom for our country and this standard is forced down our throats by a certain group of individuals who think they are better than everyone else. These are the elite and their friends, including Archbishop Villegas,” she said.
She added: “Your group is sadly a bunch of delusional hypocrites. While all of you were up there riding high on your horses, you failed to notice that many of us down here empathize with what Rodrigo Duterte is saying because it is the hard truth. It is truly without the air of hypocrisy that we smell from your kind.”
The mayor pointed out that the President perfectly understood what the spirit of Edsa is, “otherwise, he would not have told me to never forget that night of 31 years ago. And I now believe that he understands it better than you do.”
She emphasized it was wrong accusing the President of defacing the memory of Edsa, recalling how her father woke her up on the night of Feb. 25, 1986, to bring her to San Pedro Cathedral.
She said she remembered her father telling her and her brother: “Remember this night. Never forget this.”
“I have a memory of myself standing on the stairs of the San Pedro church bell tower, listening to the incessant ringing of the bells. I did not understand what was happening, but I surmised that it must be something very important because my father had to get me out of bed to watch cheering and partying adults on the streets,” she recalled.
She told Villegas that freedom is living a life that is free from your selective moral standard.
“This is what the meaning of Edsa is,” she said.