Friday Dec 15th, 2006 12:27 PM

December 17 Mass Rally in Manila:Unresolved issues justify protest, say bishops

Manila, Philippines--AJLPP-USA and other news sources reported today that the December 17 prayer rally in Manila will push through.

AN “escalation of crises” that the leaders of the country’s Roman Catholic Church can no longer take sitting down prompted the Church to spearhead tomorrow’s planned huge prayer rally at Manila’s Rizal Park.

News reports also confirmed that top officials of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines yesterday rebuffed calls from administration stalwarts for them to abandon the rally at the Quirino Grandstand in the wake of the decision by Ms Arroyo’s allies to scrap plans to convene a constituent assembly.

The CBCP secretary general, Msgr. Juanito Figura, said the CBCP could no longer ignore the escalating problems facing the country, including the questions surrounding President Macapagal-Arroyo’s disputed victory in the 2004 elections.

Figura specifically cited the “Garci” tapes, which set off the election controversy, the P728-million fertilizer fund scam and the so-called Mayuga report on the alleged involvement of military officials in election fraud as among the issues unresolved to this day.

“The Church cannot play blind, deaf and mute to the sufferings that these issues have brought,” Figura said in a press conference.

“There has been an escalating pattern that the Church cannot take sitting down. (It) has to exercise its moral and spiritual leadership, always based on the idea that how people live must also be the life that the Church must live.”

Referring to the rally’s theme of “watch and pray,” Figura said: “Watching does not end with the fact that Con-ass has been archived.”

“Watching is still a process which must go on, an open invitation for our citizens to keep on watching for the democracy that they have. (It’s) also a reminder for our lawmakers to be aware that the citizens are watching and that prayers will never end.”

Until the CBCP announced that it was holding a massive prayer rally, the bishops had often been criticized for supposedly taking generally vague positions on the political problems gripping the nation.

Intervention for the church flock

Saying the CBCP had not been exactly “silent” considering the number of pastoral statements it had issued, Figura explained that it was simply giving way for democratic processes to proceed.

“But obviously, this is not what happened so the Church now has to intervene as a moral and spiritual body that would guide the people,” he said.

Similar prayer rallies against Cha-cha are expected to be held in other parts of the country tomorrow.

Thanksgiving rally

Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, CBCP president and main organizer of the Luneta affair, yesterday said the gathering could now be turned into a prayer of “thanksgiving” considering the administration’s decision to defer Charter change.

He was also referring to the different prayer rallies held yesterday in other dioceses around the country.

As of yesterday morning, he said the dioceses of Novaliches and Infanta in Quezon had completed their respective rallies. Expected to follow were northern Luzon, the four dioceses of Negros, Capiz, Iloilo, Cebu, Kidapawan, Marbel, Cotabato, Ozamiz, Digos, Malolos, Balanga and Cavite.

“The convergence of so many institutions and groups—with the good of the country in their hearts—is a miracle of grace,” Lagdameo said in a statement. “It is a religious response to a political situation. Our government needs to be prayed for.”

Lagdameo reiterated his position on constitutional amendment, saying “we (still) have a number of crises to solve, together with the need for genuine electoral reform.”

He said the planned constitutional convention—the administration’s alternative to the scuttled Con-ass—could be “placed in the list of priorities, arranged according to importance and urgency.”

“Haste must be avoided because haste makes waste,” he said.

Rally guidelines

For tomorrow’s rally, organizers released a two-page set of guidelines designed to keep the occasion apolitical.

Former Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican Henrietta de Villa, chief rally coordinator, said policemen had been asked to ensure that banners and placards of any sort would not get beyond Taft Avenue going to Luneta.

“Of course, we asked them to do it in a nonviolent way,” she said.

De Villa said organizers were expecting at least 500,000 participants and she asked them to “shed off their identities.”

The call to watch and pray is directed at “the people of God and all Filipinos of goodwill,” according to the guidelines.

No room for GMA, JDV

Asked if Ms Arroyo, House Speaker Jose de Venecia, other personalities who had pushed for Cha-cha were welcome, De Villa gave a diplomatic answer.

“While we will do our best to guarantee that there will be no banners, no streamers and all of that, I’m also saying that we might not be able to contain some exuberance when they (participants) see people that they feel are the cause of the call and response,” she said.

“I’m sure those people (Ms Arroyo et al.) will have the good sense not (to) provoke such disrespect to their own dignity.”

Asked if she meant that it would be better for these politicians not to show up, De Villa replied: “It’s up for them to interpret.”

De Villa earlier told the Inquirer that the Quirino Grandstand would be exclusively for people officiating the Mass. These would include Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, the main celebrant, and his concelebrators.

All else—including De Villa herself, Bro. Mike Velarde of El Shaddai and Bro. Eddie Villanueva of the Jesus Is Lord Movement—will be accommodated with the rest of the crowd fronting the stage.

Even if barred from mounting the stage, senators appeared to be still keen on joining the rally.

Senators will be there

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Senators Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and Franklin Drilon shrugged off notices from rally organizers prohibiting politicians from going up the stage and issuing political statements.

“I’ll go there not because I want to climb and be recognized. I go in solidarity with the pastors of my church. I will merge faceless with the masses of our people,” Pimentel said.

Magsaysay said: “I’ll go there as a Filipino. I don’t have to say anything. I just want to pray with the Filipino people. If you’re not on the stage, there’s no hassle. It’s better to be lost in the crowd. We just want to be with the people.”

“That’s not a problem; I’ll just attend the rally,” Drilon said.

The three lawmakers, together with Senators Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, Alfredo Lim, Luisa “Loi” Ejercito-Estrada and Jinggoy Estrada earlier said they would join former President Corazon Aquino at the rally.

Senate President Villar not going

Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. indicated that he might not join the rally but said it was up to the other senators to decide on this. Villar who is playing the middle man between the pro-GMA and the opposition block in the Philippine senate, ealier said he will attend the rally.

“It’s just right that this should not be tainted with politics. So I’ll probably just forgo it and just express my support for them in some other way,” Villar said.

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