Filipinos vent anger at political chaos

MANILA, Philippines, AP

A few dramatic moments of stunned silence followed the Senate vote that threw President Joseph Estrada’s impeachment trial into chaos. Then a cacophony of sound erupted in the middle of the night.

While some Estrada supporters celebrated — one senator did an impromptu shimmy on national television — many others screamed insults, set off fireworks, honked horns and kicked trash cans.

Their frustrations, pent up from months of escalating corruption charges against their once immensely popular president, had finally boiled over. And the “noise barrage” protests grew steadily in the wee hours of Wednesday.

The popular practice of using cellular phones to send text messages spread the word quickly that prosecutors in the country’s first-ever impeachment trial had resigned after a ruling barred them from evidence they said would prove Estrada made a fortune in kickbacks and bribes.

Others who oppose the president called for rallies in radio interviews. Bonfires in the streets and plodding car processions attracted curious or angry onlookers.

The protests reached a crescendo at 3 a.m. (1900 GMT) before participants, weary and not ready to take further action, finally began trudging home.

The 6-week-old trial has captivated a country with its daily drama that has included shocking revelations and hints of sex with talk of Estrada’s mistresses. Filipinos nationwide swarmed around television sets and radios for the daily live coverage.

It steadily fed comedians, wrote legal-speak into the vocabulary of the masses and sowed fertile ground for gossip about key legal and political personalities.

Many expressed a sense that watching gave way to movement Wednesday.

“I feel great,” said Archie Beltran, an exuberant 31-year-old hairdresser mesmerized by a television in Manila’s oceanside Ermita district. “The Filipino can fight.”

His mood, buoyed by raw emotion in the city, shifted when asked about the future.

“I still want it all to stop, though,” he said, adding that he fears violence and economic ruin.

Across the street, Filipinos lined up at a row of money changer shops as uncertainty hammered the peso to a record low of 55 to the U.S. dollar early Wednesday from 52 the day before.

Next door, a dozen job seekers milled outside a recruiting agency, inspecting postings of prospects abroad.

Garry Rizalan, a 31-year-old unemployed electrician, voiced the fears of many still jittery after five synchronized bomb blasts killed 22 people in Manila on Dec. 30, a key moment for the impeachment trial.

Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but police accused Muslim extremists fighting for a separate homeland in the south. Many Filipinos believe they were connected with the trial and fear new violence.

“I think there is no good ending to this all,” said Garry Rizalan, 31, an electrician in the unemployment line. “I hope I find work in Taiwan.”