Counter-protest: Pro-Duterte crowd arrives at anti-Martial Law rally in Luneta

MANILA, Philippines – It appears to have become an SOP: whenever there are big rallies to protest President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies or to remember and condemn the horrors of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship, supporters of both camps are bussed into the area to hold their own demonstration. 

On Friday, September 21, as protesters from various points in Metro Manila marched toward the Luneta Grandstand for an anti-Martial Law program that was to start late afternoon, around 20 buses of people were parked across the Manila Hotel.  

At around 2:45 pm, Duterte supporters wearing red shirts and carrying pro-government banners – praising “Build. Build, Build” and other administration programs, for example – were seen emerging from these buses. 

It was unclear as of posting if the pro-Dutere contingent had any rally permit from the city government. The anti-Martial Law protesters, for their part, had secured permits through the United People’s Action (UPA).

In the two days leading to the Luneta event, UPA said, rally organizers met with National Capital Region Police Office Director Guillermo Eleazar and officers of the Manila Police District (MPD) Office to coordinate arrangements and ensure that the rally would be peaceful and orderly. 

The police station commander in Luneta, Superintendent Igmedio Bernaldez, said they didn’t have a copy of the rally permits of both camps, but the information they received from the MPD was that the pro-Duterte groups would be allowed to gather at the grandstand, while the anti-Martial Law protesters will be along Roxas Boulevard – both spots within Luneta Park.

In 2017 alone, Duterte administration organized counter-rallies during 3 events organized by activists and the political opposition. 

In February that year, as groups prepared for a rally on Edsa to observe the 31st anniversary of the People Power Revolution that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the Department of the Interior and Local Government issued a memorandum, asking mayors to mobilize for a pro-Duterte rally in Luneta on the same night. 

At that Luneta rally on February 25, 2017, then-justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II smugly asked the pro-Duterte crowd which opposition politician they would want him to jail next. It was a day after the Department of Justice sucessfully convinced a local court to order the arrest of Senator Leila de Lima on drug charges based on the testimonies of convicted drug lords. 

The crowd shouted the name of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. (More than a year later, Duterte issued a proclamation seeking to void the amnesty granted to Trillanes by former president Benigno Aquino III). 

On September 21, 2017, as protesters marched to Mendiola to remember the horrors of martial law, pro-Duterte groups mobilized in the area as well. The local police was questioned for its estimates of the size of the rival crowds, reportedly fudging the numbers to conceal the bigger mobilization of the opposition groups. 

On November 30, 2017, Bonifacio Day, police accorded the pro-Duterte crowd special treatment as they held a rally in Mendiola, the road leading to Malacañang Palace. The cops pushed away activists who traditionally held rallies there to denounce government abuses. 

For Friday's anti-Martial Law activities, the government deployed 4,000 cops to ensure orderly and peaceful assemblies in Metro Manila. Protest activities were also held in key cities nationwide. – Miriam Grace Go, Rambo Talabong, Paterno Esmaquel II/Rappler.com