Members of deposed president Ferdinand Marcos' political party convened a rebel session of the National Assembly in a crowded university auditorium today and cheered loudly at a call for a campaign of civil disobedience against the government of Corazon Aquino.
The meeting, held in defiance of Aquino's dissolution of the body last month, came amid persistent outbreaks of violence around demonstrations by Marcos loyalists. Police reported more than 30 persons were injured in a battle involving guns, rocks and homemade bombs in a Manila suburb this morning.
The crowd outside chanted often for Marcos' return. But inside, the former president's name rarely came up. The focus was more on forcing Aquino to make concessions. Some members said they were shocked by revelations of abuse of power by Marcos and do not want him back.
"There are millions of silent Filipinos who cannot accept a government installed by force," Arturo Tolentino, Marcos' running mate in the February presidential election, told the 93 former assembly members who attended today's meeting. He condemned Aquino's government as "an absolute dictatorship."
Outside the meeting hall, several thousand Marcos supporters rallied, many of them sporting the red, white and blue colors of his electoral campaign. Some shouted "tell the truth" at foreign journalists, whom they blame for Marcos' ouster.
Many of the demonstrators carried clubs. They used rocks against a small group of Aquino supporters who approached the site in a jeep, but no serious injuries were reported.
The meeting and demonstrations marked a new escalation of challenges to Aquino's authority. Although her opponents are trying to mimic the "people's power" that she used against Marcos, so far they have been able to mobilize only a fraction of the Philippine citizenry.
Aquino ran against Marcos in the election and the Marcos-controlled legislature proclaimed him the winner. Aquino charged he stole victory from her through fraud. In late February, a civilian-backed military revolt broke out and forced Marcos to leave the country, surrendering power to Aquino.
Late last month, she dissolved the assembly and proclaimed a "provisional constitution" that gives her wide powers. She has promised that a new constitution will be drafted later this year and that elections will be held within a year.
During the session, held at an auditorium at the University of the Philippines, the group passed a set of resolutions condemning Aquino's removal of local officials, civil servants and members of the judiciary. They also appointed a separate body to draft a new constitution.
The strength of Marcos' New Society Movement Party has been uncertain since Marcos' departure. Those who attended today's session were former assembly members who belong to the New Society Movement party; none of the former legislators from the two coalition parties that support Aquino were in attendance.
Tolentino emerged as the star of today's meeting. "I appeal to our countrymen that if they engage in civil disobedience, make it peaceful and avoid violence," he said.
Aquino spokesman Rene Saguisag tonight declined comment on the call for peaceful civil disobedience. The government has said it will not interfere with the session, which it maintains is a manifestation of the right to assemble and has no legal power.
Aquino discussed the situation with senior police officers, who assured her that "the situation is completely under control," Saguisag told reporters today. However, police were to "respond accordingly" if trouble arose, he said.
The session began shortly before 5 p.m. in the university hall. The members met there because the National Assembly building has been locked since Aquino abolished the legislature.
In a speech, Tolentino said he and Marcos had legitimately won the election, only to have victory snatched away by the military revolt.
He denied allegations of fraud in the election and called on the group to meet frequently and to consult often with their constituents. He also called for a "parliament of the streets," a term used by Aquino's camp before they came to power, but gave no details.
Blas Ople, Marcos' minister of labor, attacked Aquino's decision to replace elected officials in local governments around the country, calling it "political vengeance, exerted at every level of government and society." He acclaimed Tolentino as "the new symbol, the new chieftain" of the anti-Aquino movement.
Politically linked violence continued to break out in areas of Manila. Police said 17 policemen and 16 civilians were injured this morning in a battle in the suburb of San Juan. At today's meeting, it was announced that six persons were killed, but police denied any fatalities.
The clash in San Juan erupted when a mayor appointed by Aquino tried to enter his town hall, which had been barricaded for close to a month by supporters of the former mayor, Joseph Estrada, a popular movie star and a Marcos supporter.
In a separate incident, government television reported that two persons were stabbed to death in the town of Malabon today when strikebreakers tried to cross a picket line. The report gave no sign that the violence was politically motivated. But at today's meeting, it was said that four persons had died, all of them Aquino opponents.