Thousands of Filipinos led by left-wing and church groups turned out for a rally in Manila today to protest against moves to rewrite the constitution, which they say is a ploy to prolong the president's stay in power.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's tumultuous nine years in office are scheduled to end with May 2010 elections, but her allies in the House of Representatives initiated moves last week to open the constitution to amendments, leading her opponents to charge that term limits may be scrapped.
Philippine presidents can serve only one six-year term, but Arroyo has been able to serve an extra three years because she took over the term of former President Joseph Estrada in 2001 after he was toppled in a military-backed revolt for alleged corruption. She then won her own term in 2004.
Her spokesmen deny that she plans to stay beyond her mandate.
The opposition-dominated Senate has rejected calls for constitutional change at this time, but house speaker Prospero Nograles said MPs could propose amendments without the upper chamber, setting the stage for the case to be decided in the Supreme Court.
Metropolitan Manila police chief Roberto Rosales said more than 5,000 joined the protest in Manila's financial district of Makati, fewer than the expected 20,000. About 5,000 police patrolled the streets.
Rally organiser Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the left-wing umbrella group Bayan, said the protest was meant to "express in no unmistakable terms their vehement opposition to Arroyo's charter change".
"Let it be known that the people are united against moves to keep Arroyo in power," Reyes said.
Demonstrators carried placards saying "Gloria forever? Never!" and "Gloria must go!"
Thousands more held similar rallies in several northern, central and southern Philippine cities.
Arroyo has consistently ranked as the least popular of four Philippine presidents to hold office since the 1986 ousting of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. She has survived four coup attempts and four impeachment bids amid allegations of electoral fraud and bribery scandals.