HOHOL with History: A scene from the sidelines

A SMALL crowd of protesters, comprising both critics and supporters of Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, melted away in the rain late Friday morning as it became apparent that the former President was nowhere near the Veterans’ Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) where she was ordered transferred by a Pasay City court.

A group of Arroyo’s supporters, most of whom came from her home province of Pampanga, lined the road in front of the military hospital. Bearing placards and banners wishing the President well and calling on the government to set her free, the group–numbering around 300 according to police estimates–were separated from anti-Arroyo protesters by a thin line of police officers.

They engaged activists from Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, and Bayan Muna and Gabriela party-lists in a call-and-answer contest, matching chants to put the former President in jail with calls to let her loose.

The Bayan group called on the government to send Arroyo–who is recovering from surgery, hypoparathyroidism, a mineral bone disease and an upset colon–to jail instead of a government hospital. “Many of us, even if we are bleeding pus and almost dead cannot even go to the hospital!,” a Bayan leader screamed through a bull horn.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan activists called for jail for Arroyo, freedom for political prisoners

A few meters away, a smaller group of activists from Akbayan party-list and Alab Katipunan waved their banners and also demanded to have Arroyo put behind bars. The rally, dubbed “Pananalubong sa Mandarambong (Welcome for a Plunderer)”, was meant to show the “people’s” sentiment that Arroyo should not be afforded special treatment. There is little enough money for government hospitals, they said, to be spent on someone they believed to be feigning illness to avoid staying at a police detention facility.

They also called for the resignation or impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, an Arroyo appointee, whom they say is biased toward the former President and should not be involved in cases against her. Bantay Gloria Movement, a coalition that includes Akbayan members, has already formally petitioned to have Corona inhibit himself from Arroyo cases.

“We really have to get rid of this CoronArroyo!,” they said, echoing a theme from the 2010 elections of combining Arroyo’s name with politicians perceived to be allied with her.

Five men dressed in white shirts tried to heckle and provoke the Bayan group who, at an estimated count of 150, were greatly outnumbered by the pro-Arroyo crowd. Police were quick to step in, however, to defuse the tension. To prevent more provocation, the Bayan group closed their ranks, turning their backs on the pro-Arroyo group and on the activists from Akbayan.

At around 10:30 am, a convoy of police vehicles, including a police ambulance, arrived at VMMC and was welcomed with cheers from the pro-Arroyo crowd.

“We love you, Gloria. We love you,” an old lady, who refused to give her name, said as the convoy drove past. Be fair, they said, Arroyo has done so many good things.

The rain was pouring hard by then and pro-Gloria protesters had taken to using their placards for shelter. The rain did not keep them, however, from starting another round of chanting and cheering at the ambulance they believed to be carrying the former President.

Whispers of “This is it! Ayan na!,” were passed around as a police troop carrier rolled in behind the convoy.

But Arroyo was still at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City as the government and her lawyers argued over how she was going to be brought to Quezon City. This was confirmed by the departure of the same convoy around 15 minutes later. The police cars, the ambulance, and troop carrier were still fully loaded.

There was, after all, nobody to off load. It was a decoy sent ahead as the government tried to get Arroyo to get on a helicopter that would fly her and her family to VMMC.

The realization that they had been duped sapped the crowd’s spirit–both from the pro- and anti- side–which had already been dampened by the continuous downpour, and people started melting away to seek shelter.

The Bayan group continued its chanting for a few more minutes before ending the program and getting into hired jeeps for shelter and lunch. The people from Akbayan did the same, clambering into a single jeepney as the rain kept pouring.

Meanwhile, the gate guard at VMMC said a press briefing announced Thursday had been cancelled. There was nothing, after all, to say.

With a long wait ahead, and with the rain giving no signs of letting up, there was little to do but make light of the situation. One reporter hailed a Quezon City utility truck driving into the hospital and asked the driver, “Boss, is this the truck that’s bringing GMA here?”

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