Duterte supporters to stage own rally

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Supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte will storm heaven with prayers on Saturday and Sunday to banish the “evils of society” in a gathering far from the spot where the Philippine democratic movement will mark the 31st anniversary of the Edsa People Power Revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Social media trolls are helping the Duterte administration in the mobilization, reportedly trying to bring up to 1 million people to Rizal Park in Manila for a “prayer vigil” on Saturday and for a sharing of experiences by relatives of crime victims on Sunday.

Interior Undersecretary John Castriciones, secretary general of the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte National Executive Coordinating Council (MRRD-NECC), said various groups supporting Mr. Duterte and members of different religious communities would converge on Rizal Park for the two-day event.

Castriciones said organizers had no target figure for attendance in the event but if they could get 1 million, “then praise the Lord.”

He said Muslims, Catholic priests, Seventh-Day Adventists and members of other Protestant churches would join the prayer vigil.

‘Evils of society’

“The Edsa revolution was for change. So now that we have genuine change, we are gathering to support our government’s campaign against the evils of society, like illegal drugs, corruption and poverty,” he said.

More than 7,600 people have been killed by police and unknown gunmen in Mr. Duterte’s brutal war on drugs, drawing global concerns about violations of human rights and warnings of prosecution for crimes against humanity.

The Rizal Park event will have smaller versions in Mr. Duterte’s hometown, Davao City, organized by the MRRD-NECC in southern Mindanao.

Constancio Tiongco, regional vice president of the MRRD-NECC, said the Davao rallies would be held “to counter the expected tirades against the President by his political enemies on Feb. 25.”

No-show at Aguinaldo

Mr. Duterte will not show up at the Rizal Park gathering or at the token observance that Malacañang has authorized to be held on Saturday in Camp Aguinaldo, headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Malacañang said on Thursday that Mr. Duterte would be in Davao City, where he would attend events, including the launch of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea will represent Mr. Duterte in the Camp Aguinaldo celebration.

This would have been Mr. Duterte’s first time to lead a commemoration of the restoration of democracy in the Philippines as President, but Malacañang decided to tone down this year’s celebration of the country’s liberation from dictatorship, choosing to make it a day of reflection that would emphasize moving on from the past.

But Mr. Duterte’s spokesperson, Ernesto Abella, said there might be a “surprise” from the leader on Edsa anniversary day. “You know, I think he has some surprise for that,” Abella said on Thursday.

A source said Mr. Duterte may provide a video message for the anniversary.

Former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Benigno Aquino III have been invited to the event.

Ramos has confirmed his attendance.

Activists’ rally

Martial law survivor Etta Rosales, former head of the Commission on Human Rights, said Aquino and Vice President Leni Robredo were welcome to join a rally on Edsa on Saturday.

“This is a rally of inclusion. It’s everybody’s rally. It’s not just yellows, blues or reds. It’s a rainbow,” Rosales said on Thursday.

The rally will be separate from the government-sponsored commemoration rites in Camp Aguinaldo. It will be held at the People Power Monument on Edsa from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Millennials, including students, will march from La Salle Green Hills to the rally site.

Organizers are not looking to rival the government-sponsored gathering at Rizal Park in size. “We will be happy to gather 10,000,” Rosales said.

Among those who will join the rally are former Senators Wigberto Tañada and Rene Saguisag.  —WITH REPORTS FROM DJ YAP AND ALLAN NAWAL

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