Former social welfare chief Soliman arrested
First posted 07:15pm (Mla time) Mar 17, 2006
By INQ7.net, GMA7, Agence France-Presse, Inquirer
(7TH UPDATE) FORMER social welfare secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman and Black and White Movement convener Vicente "Enteng" Romano III were arrested by police while about to hold a "flash mob" protest at the Baywalk area of downtown Manila.
Leah Navarro, a member of the Black and White Movement, said that Romano and Soliman were about to cross the street near Malate Church when police arrested them late Friday.
Romano is behind the Black Friday Protest, a series of snap demonstrations.
Soliman was among 10 top government officials who quit Arroyo's government last year and subsequently called for the president's ouster over allegations she cheated in the May 2004 polls.
Navarro told INQ7.net that there were less than 30 people who were set to hold the flash protest at Baywalk, a strip of open cafes along Roxas Boulevard fronting Manila Bay.
About 50 riot policemen were deployed in the area.
Video footage aired on GMA Network's "24 Oras" evening newscast showed Romano and Soliman being taken to a detention center.
Soliman and Romano are now at police station 9 on United Nations Avenue.
Philippine National Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Samuel Pagdilao said Soliman violated Batas Pambansa 880 or the Public Assembly Act.
The arrest, he said, “manifests the strong commitment of the PNP to enforce the law without fear or favor.”
“The rule of law is supreme and must prevail at all times. Secretary Soliman is responsible enough to know the consequences of her unlawful actions, being a former ranking government official,” he said.
But he said that Soliman “will be afforded due process and all her basic rights respected in accordance with law.”
The Black and White Movement denounced the arrests as a "paranoid and heavy-handed" response to a peaceful protest.
"Apparently the Baywalk is only for the privileged few. Manila is the capital of repression," the group said in a mobile text message to INQ7.net.
Former education secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad arrived at the police station to act as Soliman's lawyer, Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Manuel L. Quezon III, who accompanied Soliman and Romano to the police station, told INQ7.net in a text message.
Former president Corazon Aquino has also arrived at the station to offer moral support, said Quezon.
Lawyer and blogger Edwin Lacierda is Romano's lawyer, he added.
Soliman denied that she and the members of the Black and White Movement were out to stage a protest when Manila policemen rounded them up.
She added that the black t-shirts with the words “Patalsikin na. Now na” (Oust now) printed on them and worn by her and her companions were not alluding to President Arroyo but to all corrupt government officials.
Romano recently created a blog to announce the Black Friday Protest bulletin.
This Friday's flash protest was set to be staged at Baywalk, on Roxas Boulevard from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m.
The blog instructed participants to wear black and to bring a hat, sunglasses, or an improvised hood to echo the appearance of a hooded witness of the Department of Justice who has accused Soliman of conspiring with communist rebels to oust President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
At 6:30 pm, the group was supposed to cross Roxas Boulevard in single file towards Baywalk, wear their outfits, and mingle with the regular Friday strollers at Baywalk.
They were also to flash the "thumbs down" sign at passing vehicles before quietly dispersing.
Arroyo last week said police were continuing their "mopping up" operations, saying that "residual threats" to her presidency remained.
Separately, police arrested Ricardo Pauso and Melchor Lobete, both members of a civilian-military fraternity known as the Guardians Brotherhood Inc., Friday in northern Bulacan province, Metropolitan Manila police chief Director Vidal Querol said. Police seized several high-powered weapons, including rifle grenades and magazines for M-16 rifles, from the men.
Former senator Gregorio Honasan, accused by the government of playing a role in last month's thwarted coup, is a faction leader of the Guardians.
"We are checking if they are followers of ex-senator Honasan because the Guardians have mutated into several factions," Querol said. "They are not giving a definitive statement."
Querol said the men were carrying Guardian membership cards and apparently spurious cards identifying them as military intelligence agents.
Honasan, a former army colonel, has not been seen in public since last month. After leading coup attempts against then-President Corazon Aquino in 1987 and 1989, the government granted him amnesty in 1995. He has since been charged in a mutiny by about 300 junior officers and personnel from elite military units in July 2003.
Arroyo last month placed the Philippines in a state of national emergency to thwart an alleged plot by communist rebels, military officers and political opponents to topple her and install a junta.
Some military and police officers have been detained and questioned, while six leftist legislators and 10 other opposition figures have been charged with attempting a coup and rebellion.