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PNP units on full alert for anti-Sona rallies

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WARM-UP PROTEST Militants parade effigies of President Aquino and Uncle Sam during a Sunday rally near Malacañang in preparation for a big one when the country’s highest official delivers his third State of the Nation Address Monday at the Batasang Pambansa Complex in Quezon City. RICHARD A. REYES

Military and police forces in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces went on highest alert Sunday as President Benigno Aquino prepared to face a joint session of Congress Monday to deliver his report on the state of the nation.

But apart from massive protest rallies expected to be launched by militant and other antigovernment organizations, authorities expect no major threats to public security Monday.

“So far, we have not received any report of a threat,” Colonel Arnulfo Burgos Jr., military spokesperson, said Sunday. “However, we are continuing with our monitoring and surveillance in coordination with the Philippine National Police and other security agencies.”

“(We anticipate a) peaceful State of the Nation Address (Sona), yes,” he added.

Full alert

Police regional offices in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Calabarzon were placed on full alert beginning noon Sunday.

Those in Zamboanga, Davao, Soccksargen, Caraga, Northern Mindanao and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) are still on full alert even though the voters’ registration in the ARMM was over.

Police forces in Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Mimaropa, Bicol, Cordillera Autonomous Region, and Western, Central and Eastern Visayas have remained at heightened alert.

Orders went out to all police commanders to secure all police camps and offices, vital installations, economic key points and public places.

Police sweeps

The military has seven Civil Disturbance Management (CDM) companies with about 500 troops standing by in case police ask for assistance, Burgos said.

Police ran sweeps of communities near the House of Representatives in Quezon City on Friday night to ensure there were no criminals lurking there to disrupt the President’s speech in Congress today.

Chief Superintendent Mario de la Vega, Quezon City police chief, ordered the “saturation drive” in the vicinities of the legislative complex, but the police sweeps produced negative results.

De la Vega said the sweeps also intended to flush out terrorists, but no terrorists were found.

The policemen carried warrants for the arrest of several criminals, but none of those wanted men was found in the raided areas, De la Vega said.

The communities around the House of Representatives were “generally peaceful,” De la Vega said.

The Senate and the House of Representatives will meet in joint session today at the Batasang Pambansa complex to listen to President Aquino’s third report on the state of the nation.

Militant groups have announced marches and rallies on Commonwealth Avenue, the main road leading to the legislative complex in Quezon City.

Chief Superintendent Edgardo Ladao, Central Luzon police director, on Sunday said he ordered 300 policemen to Quezon City to beef up security around the legislative complex.

“The aim is make this a peaceful Sona,” Ladao said.

Luisita farmers

On Sunday, 120 farm workers from Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac left the province to picket the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) offices in Quezon City.

The farm workers would join a march to Congress today, said Joseph Canlas, chairman of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson.

At least 350 more farm workers from the disputed estate owned by the family of President Aquino were expected to join marches and programs near the legislative complex, he said.

“We challenge President Aquino to order the fast distribution of land in Luisita as ordered by the Supreme Court,” Canlas said. “If he’s truly sincere, he should render justice long denied the farm workers by his relatives.”

Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes earlier said his agency would be ready with a preliminary list of confirmed beneficiaries by August or September.

The DAR is interviewing the farm workers or heirs of farm workers whose names appear on a 1989 list prepared for the stock distribution plan, a system used by Hacienda Luisita owners to implement agrarian reform but was voided by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court thrice upheld the distribution of Hacienda Luisita land, as recommended by the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council.

March to Manila

In San Pablo City in Laguna province, more than 1,000 militant farmers pressed their march to Manila on Sunday despite heavy rain.

Orly Marcellana, a leader of the group, said getting soaked in the rain would not deter the farmers from continuing on to Manila to stage a protest.

Marcellana said his group would join militants from Metro Manila and march to the legislative complex carrying effigies of the President and Uncle Sam to dramatize their protest against human rights violations that, they said, the government has failed to stop, even under the Aquino administration.

In the Visayas, Mr. Aquino’s critics will also march and stage rallies today as he speaks in Congress Monday.

Thousands of protesters in Iloilo, Aklan and Capiz are expected to join, said Karlo Mongaya, spokesperson in Panay of the Kabataan party-list group.

The protest actions will include walkouts from schools to protest high tuition and other fees and insufficient funding for education, Mongaya said.

Protesters led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) will assemble in front of the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) campus in Iloilo City and at the Jaro District plaza and converge at the Iloilo provincial capitol before marching around the city.

“We, of course, expect President Aquino to paint a rosy picture of his second year in office. But the people, especially those belonging to the poorest sectors know that life has not improved and has even gone worse,” said Lean Porquia, secretary general of Bayan-Panay.

Mongaya said students from UPV, West Visayas State University, Central Philippine University and other schools in Iloilo City will join the rally. Others will hold forums, wear red shirts, light candles and wear ribbons to show their support.

Protest actions have also been set in the capital town of Kalibo in Aklan and in Roxas City in Capiz, Porquia said. With reports from Julie M. Aurelio in Manila; Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon; Romulo Ponte, Inquirer Southern Luzon; and Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Inquirer Visayas


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