1. ASEAN Summit
Formed in 1967, ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is a political and economic organization of countries located in Southeast Asia. Members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore Thailand, and Vietnam. The United States is a not a formal ASEAN member but has been actively involved since the group's founding.
Critics charge that with the onset of the “war on terror” and the increasing political and economic importance of ASEAN to the whole of Asia and the Pacific, "the United States appears to be increasingly using the organization as a region-wide mechanism for meeting its objectives in the sub-region and beyond."
Monday, January 15, 2007, was the fourth and final day of the 12th ASEAN Summit in Cebu. This was the first time that Cebu had ever hosted the ASEAN summit. A coalition of activist groups led by BAYAN (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan: New Patriotic Alliance) was planning to hold a final protest rally, involving an attempt to march on Malacañang Sugbo, President Arroyo's 'Southern Palace' where she stays on her frequent trips to Cebu.
Press pass in hand, I'd been searching for the rallystas for three days, and today I finally found them.
2. Marching to Malacañang Sugbo
I caught up with the rallystas as they were marching south on Del Rosario Avenue in Cebu City.
They turned left onto Osmeña Boulevard, heading towards downtown and eventually, Malacañang Sugbo, near the port.
Farther down Osmeña Boulevard, the not-quite-ready police hastily assembled a scrimmage line of shield-and-baton-wielding officers.
In a tense moment, the two groups met face-to-face.
The rallyists back-pedaled and ran down a side-street looking for an different route to the palace. On Morga Street not far from Malacañang, the police assembled another line and once again held the protestors.
Things got dodgy when a small breakaway group of rallyists found their way to the front gate of Malacañang; another group of police used their shields and batons to beat them back towards the main group of rallyists.
During the brief but violent encounter, some demonstrators sustained what appeared to be minor injuries.
Fortunately the situation quickly settled down and the rallyists, realizing that they weren't going to reach Malacañang, decided to hold their program where we were.
(First time I've ever seen riot police wearing skirts.)
5. Mayor Tommy
At this point Cebu City Mayor Thomas Osmeña showed up to mediate between the rallystas and the security forces, in case it was needed (he had done the same thing at Friday's demonstration in Mabolo and had helped calm what had been a very tense situation.
Things remained quiet and after the television reporters finished interviewing the mayor, I saw him standing alone and took the opportunity to thank him for his peacemaker role. He gave a friendly response and things stayed so quiet that I was able to talk with him for about 20 minutes.
The rally finished and the tension defused, the rallystas posed for pictures against the police lines and then prepared to go home. (Malacañang Sugbo is the blue-roofed building visible behind the police bus in the photo on the left.)
Then they left, leaving only a small pile of ashes where they had burned an effigy of the President.