Earthquake drill on ‘Day of Protest’ cancelled, militant groups set massive rallies

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DISASTER authorities called off a nationwide earthquake drill scheduled for Sept. 21 after an alliance of rights groups accused the Duterte administration of trying to sabotage protest actions to mark the 45th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

President Rodrigo Duterte this week suspended work in government offices and classes in public schools and universities on Sept. 21 in anticipation of threats of massive demonstrations against the alleged abuses of his administration.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said it would postpone the nationwide earthquake drill because most of the regional disaster risk reduction management councils had selected government offices and schools as their pilot areas.

An alliance opposing the government’s hardline policies on Tuesday accused Duterte of trying to sabotage an anti-dictatorship rally at Luneta Park in Manila.

“In an effort to scare rally participants, President Duterte has hinted that armed members of the New People’s Army would join the event and threatened to declare martial law nationwide if the rally turned violent,” the Movement Against Tyranny led by former senator Rene Saguisag, former Bayan Muna Party-List lawmaker Neri Colmenares, former Quezon congressman Erin Tañada, Free Legal Assistance Group chairman Jose Manuel Diokno, activist nun Mary John Mananzan, and University of the Philippines Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan.

“He [Duterte] also said he would declare a holiday on the 21st, apparently in order to keep students and employees at home and prevent them from going to Luneta en masse from their schools and workplaces,” the group said.

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The alliance also cited the national earthquake drill as another effort to sabotage the protests.

“We will not be intimidated by such actions. We will not be prevented from exercising our constitutional right to freedom of expression and assembly,” the alliance said.

The anti-martial law protests is expected to run from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Luneta Park.

Police will be deployed in key areas in Metro Manila to maintain law and order during the scheduled protests by various groups.

A police spokesman said they have not received any reports of threats that might disrupt Thursday’s protest actions.

Philippine National Police spokesman Chief Supt Dionardo Carlos said they were finalizing security preparations, including those for the perimeter of the Palace.

Carlos said the National Capital Region Police Office has tapped the Manila Police District to activate Task Force Manila Shield, which was formed in 2000 to block groups from marching to Chino Roces Bridge, the gateway to the Palace.

Carlos said the police would exercise “maximum tolerance” on the day of protests.

Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada said he has told the Manila Police District to ensure that there are enough units on the ground to maintain peace and order before, during and after the demonstrations in Rizal Park.

“The safety of the public is our paramount concern here, and also of the rally participants and the policemen,” Estrada said. “We will have sufficient men on the ground and our emergency units have all been placed on standby.”

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Some 1,400 policemen from the MPD and the National Capital Region Police Office will be deployed to secure Manila during the Sept. 21 martial law anniversary.

While work in government offices and classes in public schools and universities will be suspended, private companies and schools will have to decide for themselves, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said Tuesday.

People may exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, and to seek redress for the grievances against the government, past or present during the day, Abella said.

He added that law enforcement personnel have been directed to stay away from mass actions and to exercise maximum restrain unless intervention is needed to maintain public order.

The leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said the people are determined to push through with the nationwide protests on Sept. 21.

“President Rodrigo Duterte can call the day whatever he wants but it won’t change the fact that it is a protest aimed at him and his fascist policies,” Renato Reyes Jr., Bayan secretary-general, said in a statement.

Reyes said Duterte can throw in class and work suspensions and even a nationwide earthquake drill and these still won’t change their resolve to hold the nationwide mass protests.

He said Duterte can threaten the people with martial law using the left as scapegoat, like Marcos did, but it still will not deter the people from gathering in public places to voice their indignation.

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“The people can see right through the demagoguery of Duterte. What is of utmost importance now is the broad national unity against the extrajudicial killings, rising tyranny and the return to fascist dictatorship. Resistance is our only weapon against fascism. Broad and united opposition is our best chance against dictatorship. There is now an emerging united front challenging the fascist Duterte regime,” Reyes said.

Reyes said the militants have scheduled protests and gatherings on September 21 in Bicol, Panay, Negros, Cebu, Davao and Hong Kong.

Contingents from Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog are also expected to arrive in Manila and link up with the Lakbayan of national minorities who have camped out in Quezon City since the start of September.

“We expect more protest centers as Sept. 21 approaches,” Reyes said.

The militant farmers group the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, is set to mobilize its members nationwide in localized actions in provinces and regions to protest the extrajudicial killings and the “tyranny of the Duterte administration.”

Land reform advocates will join the scheduled mass actions in Mendiola and Luneta on Thursday.

KMP chapters in Ilocos, Camarines Sur, Cagayan de Oro, Tagbilaran, Compostela Valley will also mobilize thousands, the group said.

In Duterte’s hometown Davao City, 2,000 farmers will gather at the local Rizal Park.

In Masbate, 5,000 farmers will join the actions.

Farmers from Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon will join the Mendiola and Luneta rallies.

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