LGUs only ‘encouraged’– not compelled – to join rally
Participants in the alternative “people power” rally over the weekend were not ordered but encouraged to join the gathering at Rizal Park in Manila, according to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Interior Undersecretary John Castriciones yesterday defended the memo of his boss, Secretary Ismael Sueno, telling local government officials to support the proadministration rally amid charges that people, including beneficiaries of the government’s conditional cash transfer program, were compelled to attend and bussed to the gathering.
Castriciones said the memo was meant only to encourage local officials to support the rally, which he described as nonpartisan and “open to everyone” who wanted to stamp out poverty, corruption and illegal drugs.
“What was asked was just to show support. It did not say that you provide a budget or you set aside government resources,” he said in a phone interview.
“It was a private event against illegal drugs, poverty and corruption, and local government units just took advantage of it because they also have the same advocacies,” he added.
Castriciones is the secretary general of the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte National Executive Coordinating Council, which organized the prayer vigil at Rizal Park from Feb. 25 to 26.
‘Also about change’
The rally complemented the commemoration of the 31st Edsa People Power Revolution because, the DILG official said, the Rizal Park gathering was “also about change.”
Dated Feb. 21, the memo from Sueno told local officials that their constituents who were “willing to participate in the events may be organized for the purpose.”
Media reported the presence at Rizal Park of ambulances and other government vehicles that were apparently used to ferry participants to the rally.
Asked about this, Castriciones said: “If you’re an LGU in Batangas, how will your people go to Luneta (Rizal Park)?”
“And besides, all of us will benefit from this because it affirms the need to have a concerted effort down to the barangay level to fight these evils of society,” he said.
He said that at its height, the prayer vigil gathered a crowd of more than 500,000.
But Malacañang said in a statement on Sunday that the number peaked at 215,000 as of 9 p.m. on Saturday, citing a police estimate.
“Now since this is a gathering of various groups, we also cannot stop speakers from airing their views,” Castriciones said.
At the rally, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II asked the crowd who should be “next” after the arrest of administration critic, Sen. Leila de Lima.
Other officials who showed up were Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.
Malacañang said rallies that commemorated the 31st Edsa People Power Revolution showed that democracy was vibrant and alive under the Duterte administration.
Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo denied ordering beneficiaries of the cash transfer program, or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), to attend the pro-Duterte rally.
She was reacting to an Inquirer report that some participants in the rally had claimed they were required to attend to get the cash grants under 4Ps.
“Under my watch and upon the express instructions of the President himself, the programs of the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) will never be used to campaign for or against any political agenda,” Taguiwalo said on Sunday.
Nearly 4.4 million households receive monthly cash grants under the 4Ps. —WITH A REPORT FROM CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO
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