MANILA: Thousands of supporters and foes of President Rodrigo Duterte joined large rallies in Manila on Saturday, highlighting how his brutal drug war has polarised the Philippines. A prayer rally for Duterte’s eight month-long anti-narcotics crackdown drew the biggest turnout, estimated by police at up to 200,000 although AFP reporters said it looked a lot less. “Your presence here showcases the strong support that your president continues to enjoy,” Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre told the crowd at the prayer rally, who lit candles and sang religious songs.
Duterte critics including ex-leader Benigno Aquino and Vice President Leni Robredo, who was elected separately from the president, joined one of the other rallies held near the national police headquarters in Manila. This gathering marked the 31st anniversary of the victory of a pro-democracy movement that culminated in a bloodless “People Power” revolution that ended the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. Some at this rally criticised the drug killings, many of which have been described by international foreign monitors as state-sanctioned murder. “We are warning our people about the threat of rising fascism,” protest leader Bonifacio Ilagan said after leading more than 1,000 protesters at another rally earlier Saturday.
Ilagan, a playwright who was tortured over two years in a police prison under Marcos’ martial rule in the 1970s, cited the “culture of impunity” arising from Duterte’s crackdown. Aquino marched alongside political allies and around 2,000 other protesters. He denounced the government’s treatment of Senator Leila de Lima, the top critic of the Duterte drug war, who was arrested on Friday and faces life in prison if convicted of drugs charges. — AFP