Organized by local civil society groups led by the newly-created Ranao Crescent Against Balikatan Exercises, the protesters included representatives from the provincial government and the city government, whose governor and mayor belong to opposing parties. Their followers attended the rally at the public plaza this morning.
About a hundred members of the police, Special Operations Group and the Traffic Management Group watched as protesters listened to speeches against Balikatan.
Earlier, the city government led by Mayor Fahad Salic passed a resolution urging President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to "refrain" from implementing the Balikatan exercises. The provincial government led by Governor Mohammad Khalid Mamintal Adiong said, the province would oppose the exercises if this is the "will of the people."
Maranaos were caught off-guard as no consultations were made on the coming exercises that would start on February 18.
Red and white streamers with messages written, "No To Balikatan Exercises, American Troops Out" were placed in strategic positions around the city. Another streamer said, "US government exploits our natural resources, to hell with Bush." A big tarpaulin
saying "No To Balikatan Exercises in the Two Lanao Areas" was sponsored by the Provincial Government.
Using religious slogans, speakers in the rally said non-Muslims like Americans are out to "destroy Islam."
"We know the democracy agenda of the United States is that’s what’s utilized in other countries like Iraq, " said one protester.
Aleem Abu Saranggani, head of the influential Markazz Shabbab organization, said Balikatan will destroy the peace in the province. "We are discriminated. When Americans commit crimes, they cannot be punished here but would be punished in their own country."
"Whatever support, aid that the US would give, give it to our government. We don't need troops here," Saranggani said. (Samira A. Gutoc/MindaNews)