MANILA, Philippines – Supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte will hold gatherings around the Philippines and in other countries on the 31st anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution.
"We would like to show that the support for the President is not waning and that there is really strong support for the President because a lot of people really think the President is doing the right thing in order to stamp out illegal drugs," said Interior Undersecretary John Castriciones, who also serves as secretary-general of the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte National Executive Coordinating Council (MRRD-NECC).
The MRRD-NECC was among the groups that campaigned for Duterte during the 2016 elections.
Other government officials, such as Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Secretary Gene Mamondiong and Interior Undersecretary Emily Padilla, are part of the group and are helping organize the gatherings.
One of the gatherings will take place from February 25 to 26 at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila. According to Castriciones, there are events also being organized in Davao, Cebu, Iloilo, Bacolod, and even abroad in Hong Kong, London, Dubai, and Canada.
The gatherings are taking place alongside other rallies to be held on the week of the EDSA Revolution anniversary, including a rally to protest the spate of extrajudicial killings to be held at the People Power Monument in Quezon City. (READ: Anti-Marcos group: Quiet EDSA anniversary rites part of revisionism)
But Castriciones said they are "not competing with anyone" on who can draw the largest crowds.
He also emphasized that the pro-Duterte rallies are their way of commemorating the EDSA Revolution which toppled the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 and heralded the return of democracy in the Philippines.
"We all know that [the] EDSA Revolution also advocated for change and the President is a person who has really advocated for genuine change," he said.
Drug victims to speak up
The pro-Duterte rally at the Quirino Grandstand will begin at 5 pm on February 25 with a prayer vigil and program that will feature speeches and performances by artists supportive of the President.
Castriciones gave an "optimistic" estimate of one million people expected to show up.
They have invited the President to attend any of the events.
Among those who will give their testimonies on February 25 are "victims of illegal drugs" and families whose members were driven to crime due to drugs.
The expected performances are a flashback to Duterte's campaign sorties, given the participation of some familiar artists. The list of performers who have confirmed as of February 21 includes pro-Duterte blogger Mocha Uson, comedian Arnell Ignacio, and singer-composer Freddie Aguilar.
Uson and Ignacio are now government officials, having been appointed by Duterte as Movie and Television Review and Classification board member and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation assistant vice president, respectively.
The program will last until the early hours of February 26. On this day, leaders from various organizations are set to give speeches. The program will wind down around noon.
The artists are performing free of charge. Castriciones emphasized that, despite the participation of government officials, no government resources will be spent on the event.
However, he said they would "welcome" the support of local government units with anti-drug programs.
While the group insists the event is "not politically-motivated," its members admitted that it is a reaction to recent events that point to a supposed "destabilization plot" against Duterte.
MRRD-NECC media head Bobby Brillante, reading the group's statement, said there is a "multimillion propaganda" against the Duterte administration launched by "pseudo opposition leaders."
Interior Undersecretary Padilla said the rally serves "as a warning to these people that the President's mass base, the MRRD-NECC, will not allow this."
"We cannot allow these people to have elbow room to manipulate the Filipino people," she added.
The group pointed to an "unseen hand" behind recent events they believe are part of a "calibrated" effort to destabilize the government.
Interior Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing gave the example of the Walk for Life event last February 18 that protested the drug-related killings and the proposed revival of the death penalty.
He claimed it was a "testing ground" by groups who want to oust Duterte to see if they could gather enough people for a "People Power type of destabilization."
Densing said the President has been informed of this supposed plot. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.