Official crowd estimates placed the number of rally participants at 15,000 at most. The rally organizers quoted a much higher figure, from 80,000 to 100,000. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between.
What is undeniable is that the rally held at the Makati central business district drew a much larger throng than the initial rally of February 15, when the ZTE-national broadband network scandal flared up anew with the Senate testimony of whistle-blower cum repentant sinner Jun Lozada.
The success of the rally owes much to the organizational clout of the Jesus is Lord (JIL) Christian charismatic group, headed by losing presidential aspirant and strident Arroyo critic Eddie Villanueva. The JIL coined the catchy, and non-threatening, designation “inter-faith” rally, although no one can deny that this gathering had more to do with politics than religion. The venue also played a significant part, being where the offices of big major corporations are, which provides a captive audience of thousands of office workers leaving work on a Friday afternoon. Its no accident that large group protests in Makati are timed to peak just after 5:00 p.m, when the rush hour begins. The start of the weekend also assures that they will be inclined to look around and linger.
There was was a broad cross-section of anti-Arroyo interests represented, from lawyers of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, to businessmen, with the wealthy and influential Makati Business Club allegedly bankrolling the the event, to students from various schools, to gays and lesbians (LAGLAG-Lesbians and Gays Laban kay Gloria). The hard-core Left rubbed elbows with rightist ex-putschists, the Catholic religious organizations with their Born-Again and Muslim brethren.
Ex-presidents Cory Aquino and Joseph “Erap” Estrada were present and addressed the cheering crowd one after the other. Strange bedfellows indeed. Cory played a leading role in the ouster of Erap in 2001. But Philippine politics being what it is, they easily and quite naturally joined hands and called for President Arroyo to step down. By design, the other opposition politicos were not asked to speak, to give the whole thing a more spontaneous, issue-oriented and less personality-centered atmosphere. But the man of the hour, Jun Lozada, was the keynote speaker. He said nothing new, except to allude to recent rumors, which he did not categorically deny, that he kept a mistress and had three children by her. The crowd loved him anyway. He was easily the most popular figure present, eclipsing even Cory and Erap, who thoughtfully left early in order to give Lozada center stage.
The rhetoric was still measured, with official statements from most groups resting on the search for truth and justice.
But the worrisome signs, for Arroyo, are there. Demands for her to resign have become more clamorous. The youth and young professionals were there in force, the sector which will provide much of the energy and commitment for continued mass actions in the long haul. And the support of big business was very evident, with Phinma boss and ex-MBC prexy Boy Blue Del Rosario acting as the unofficial spokesman. PLDT head honcho Manny Pangilinan was there, as was Philamlife CEO Joey Cuisia. The BPI corporate HQ was the holding area for Jun Lozada and his “security detail ” of nuns.
The large turnout was notable, even as the administration reportedly blocked groups coming from outside Metro Manila from joining the Makati rally. Well-attended provincial rallies were also reported in key cities across the country.
The challenge for the opposition is how to build momentum and keep the snowballing anti-Arroyo movement going.
Meanwhile, GMA was holed up in Camp Crame with her coterie of advisers and military and police generals, putting up a brave front and trying to give the impression that things were under control.