Thousands join protest Mass in Philippines

Other News Materials 17 February 2008 10:42 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa )- Thousands of Filipinos attended a protest Mass SUnday to support a key witness in a corruption scandal that has intensified calls for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's resignation.

The Mass, organized by Catholic groups and pro-democracy leaders, was held two days after some 10,000 people joined a rally in the financial district of Makati to call for Arroyo's ouster.

Former president Corazon Aquino led more than 3,000 people in the Mass held a few blocks away from Manila's main EDSA highway, the site of two previous non-violent mass uprisings that ousted two former presidents.

The gathering expressed support for Rodolfo Lozada, a government consultant who exposed huge illegal kickbacks that led to the overpricing of a scrapped 329-million-dollar government contract.

Lozada was met by applause and cheers when he arrived at the Mass, where priests thanked him for "inspiring all of us again" and "helping us regain our morality."

At the end of the Mass, Aquino said she hoped that Lozada now knows that he is not alone in his fight.

"I want all Filipinos to unite again," she said. "If we can get together and be united, we will see our bright future for our country."

Dozens of former government officials also issued a manifesto at the end of the Mass to call on Arroyo's current cabinet members to quit and expose alleged wrongdoings in government.

"It's time to cut clean," their statement said. "It is time to go. Enough is enough. Now is the time."

The opposition-led Senate has been investigating allegations of overpricing of the mothballed national broadband deal between the Philippine government and Chinese firm ZTE Corp.

In his Senate testimony, Lozada corroborated earlier accounts alleging the country's former elections' chief and Arroyo's husband were involved in getting at least 130 million dollars in kickbacks from the ZTE contract.

He also accused government security forces of kidnapping him to prevent him from testifying.

Arroyo's husband Jose Miguel, former elections' chief Benjamin Abalos and top security officials have denied Lozada's allegations.

Arroyo has been battling calls for her resignation since 2005 due to allegations of electoral fraud. She has thwarted previous coup attempts to oust her and survived bids to impeach her.