AVOIDING fiery rhetoric at the prayer rally, Catholic Church leaders said Sunday that what the country needed was a different kind of "Cha-cha"--not Charter change but character change.
But organizers of the rally held at Manila's Quirino Grandstand made one thing clear: They were not letting their guard down and would remain vigilant against any self-serving effort to amend the Constitution.
Despite the organizers' claims that they could muster up to a half-million people for the rally, only a small number showed up, estimated by police and Inquirer reporters at anywhere between 15,000 and 30,000.
Church organizers said 50,000 people came. They represented various religious congregations, civil society and cause-oriented groups and the academe, and also included political figures, among them former president Corazon Aquino and several senators critical of President Macapagal-Arroyo.
Aquino told reporters the rally should remind all "that nobody is above the law."
"We should realize that we should always look out for the best interest of the people. Leaders should serve the people," said Aquino, who had called on Arroyo to step down following allegations of her involvement in electoral fraud in 2004.
Rallies were also held Sunday in different provinces in Southern Tagalog and in Cebu.
"We are not asleep," academician Dr. Judith Aldaba, a nonpartisan representative tapped to explain the reasons for the rally, told the Luneta crowd, amid applause.
"We are watching every wrong move of our leaders and the representatives in government," Aldaba said in Filipino.
Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, generally quiet on political issues, threw his support behind the call for people to keep their vigilance.
Rosales reiterated the Church position that any Charter change should come through a constitutional convention, whose members would be elected and not beholden to the power holders.
"What breathes life into law is the spirit of man, not the spirit of the law moving man," he said in Filipino in his homily.
More than Charter change, Rosales and Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, emphasized the need for "character change" among Filipinos.
"We need more importantly and more urgently this educative and moral character change," Lagdameo told the gathering.
"Call it repentance from sin, reform of morals, renewal of values. All of these, and the nation will rise with hope, right vision, and confidence."
"There must be reform in many of us--in all of us!" Rosales said in his homily.
He said the Church position did not mean an outright refusal to amend the 19-year-old Charter.
But reform should begin with individuals, including "the body entrusted with elections," he said. The remark was seen as being directed at the Commission on Elections, whose independence has been assailed by members of the opposition and civil society.
Organizers had initially called the rally to dramatize their opposition to efforts by Arroyo's allies in Congress to revise the Constitution through a constituent assembly in which they themselves would rewrite the Charter and set up a parliamentary style of government.
Massive public pressure forced the President and her allies to abandon their plan, at least for now.
Rosales' reference to political issues, which he reserved toward end of his homily, surprised one Church official.
"Part of the success of this gathering is the fact that the Cardinal has finally spoken," he told the Inquirer.
The 74-year-old Rosales braved an illness which had confined him at the Cardinal Santos Memorial Medical Center and nearly kept him from concelebrating the Mass with at least eight other bishops.
Organizers dubbed Sunday's rally as: "Watch and Pray: Show Concern to the Country."
In line with the appeal of the organizers, none of the groups that attended the rally carried their political banners or shouted slogans.
Msgr. Pedro Quitorio, spokesperson of the CBCP, which called the rally, said the success of the gathering did not rest on numbers alone.
Quality, not quantity
"It's in the quality, not the quantity," said Quitorio, noting that the CBCP didn't even bother to send official invitations to parishes or specific personalities.
"People came here on their own," he said.
An early bird was former president Aquino, who came in her signature bright yellow dress and a buri hat. She was followed shortly by Sen. Franklin Drilon.
[Andrew: Somehow, I don't think they're saying mea culpa =)]
They were personally welcomed by Lagdameo, who descended from the grandstand to greet Aquino and Drilon, both seated in designated plastic chairs in front of the stage.
Bro. Mike Velarde of El Shaddai also came and stayed with the crowd throughout the program.
Organizers earlier announced that the stage was exclusively for bishops and priests and those who would be serving in the Mass.
Also around were Senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Jamby Madrigal, Jinggoy Estrada, Alfredo Lim and Panfilo Lacson, former Senators Francisco Tatad and Ernesto Maceda, Representatives Roilo Golez, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, Francis Escudero, Nereus Acosta, Satur Ocampo, Teodoro Casiño, Riza Hontiveros-Baraquel and Loreta Ann Rosales.
Heeding the organizers' call to keep their political banners out of the venue, participants, especially those from left-leaning groups, came and prayed with priests and nuns, students and teachers, politicians and ordinary citizens.
The theme of unity was highlighted by the lively singing of Christian songs, spiced up by a rap rendition by a female emcee, the praying of the rosary, an interreligious invocation, and the concelebrated Mass.
The other bishops who celebrated the Mass were Lagdameo, Jose Oliveros of Malolos, Antonio Tobias of Novaliches, Deogracias Iñiguez of Caloocan, Gabriel Reyes of Antipolo, Florentino Lavarias of Iba, Teodoro Bacani, prelate emeritus of Caloocan, and Auxiliary Bishops Broderick Pabillo of Manila, and Pablo David and Roberto Mallari of San Fernando, Pampanga.
Also well represented was the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines and its mission partners. The provincials (heads) of the Dominican and Jesuit orders were both present.
Both Rosales and Lagdameo spoke of the atmosphere of joy and thanksgiving, considering that the rally was being held a week before Christmas.
"We must avoid any feeling of triumphalism, even of anger, hatred, bitterness because we know we cannot achieve anything in this world of religious, politics, business and social life without the blessing of God," Lagdameo said.
Arroyo conceded that the rally was a "peaceful expression of the people that their democracy is working and their voices are being heard."
"The power of the people to take collective action is always an inspiration and must be channeled for good," she said.
She said the public should instead also pray and volunteer for rehabilitation work in areas ravaged recently by deadly mudslides.
Unlike in the Manila rally, some 600 protesters in Cebu City proclaimed in their streamers their demand for Arroyo's ouster.
The protesters from the Jesus is Lord Movement, Protestant and other evangelical churches and militant groups, held a prayer service asking for the "enlightenment" of Ms Arroyo and her allies in Congress.
Around 500 farmers and workers staged a rally in Calamba City. Protest actions were also held in Cavite and Quezon provinces.
With reports from Fe Zamora, Alcuin Papa, Christine Avendaño, Jolene Bulambot, Inquirer Visayas and Bernadette Parco/Cebu Daily News; Niña Catherine Calleja and Romulo O. Ponte, Inquirer Southern Luzon and AFP
Copyright 2006 Inquirer.