MANILA — About 15,000 leftist protesters marched on the presidential palace today to be embraced by nuns and Cabinet officials--just four days after troops stopped a similar march with gunfire that killed 15 people.
President Corazon Aquino withdrew troops from surrounding streets and dispatched them to their barracks to avoid violence with the largest leftist march on Malacanang Palace in Philippine history.
In an unexpected move, Aquino dispatched about a dozen of her Cabinet ministers, scores of palace staff and Carmelite nuns to greet the protesters at the locked palace gates, shake their hands and embrace some of them.
The rally united some of Aquino's closest friends and advisers with her bitterest foes.
Bishop and Militants
A bishop and Cabinet ministers walked alongside left-wing militants. Nuns and priests and society matrons walked alongside peasant women. Supporters of deposed strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos flashed his V symbol alongside communists raising clenched fists.
In a letter to Aquino, the marchers demanded that she fire her defense and agrarian reform ministers, as well as three top generals.
The protesters blamed them for last Thursday's violence when troops fired on 10,000 farmers, killing 15 people, on Mendiola Bridge, a concrete slab that spans a stagnant storm drain 300 yards from the palace gates.
Carrying a black mock coffin, the demonstrators raised their fists and shouted, "Revolution!" as they marched past the 15-foot steel palace gates. They also hauled a large white cross demanding justice and signs reading "Corazon Aquino, American Puppet" and "Cory, Sorry," even as Aquino supporters shouted her name.
'We Had to Spill Blood'
A loudspeaker truck in the parade rolled past the palace, declaring, amid cheers from the demonstrators, "Madame Aquino, thank you for letting us over the bridge. But remember, we had to spill blood to get here."
Two fire trucks, manned by half a dozen soldiers, stood behind the gates. Half a dozen other fire engines blocked a nearby street leading to a house where Aquino's family lives.
Two hours before the march began, Aquino was reported close to tears when she met farm and trade union leaders, telling them the deaths of the 15 marchers brought her great pain.
"I could not sleep," Aquino was quoted as saying. Farm leader Jaime Tadeo, himself in tears, told Aquino that the peasants loved her but military barricades were isolating her from the people.
Aquino then lifted the ban on demonstrators crossing the Mendiola Bridge leading to the palace, and ordered troops to stay out of sight of the marchers and barbed-wire fencing to be left in the sheds.
Thousands of city residents jammed sidewalks, leaned from windows and stood on rooftops to watch the demonstrators as they massed at the main post office and marched through the center of Manila before crossing Mendiola Bridge.