by  Samira Gutoc 09204345010

A contingent of almost a hundred police, special operations group (SOG) and Traffic Management Group manned the second of a series of major rallies which started the weekend in Marawi City protesting the joint exercises of American and Filipino soldiers dubbed Balikatan .

Elderly, young students, women in black , religious groups filled the public plaza at Banggolo today to listen to speeches opposing the exercises.

Organized by local civil society groups led by a newly-created Ranao Crescent Against Balikatan Exercises, the rally was a rare appearance of representatives from the Provincial Government and the City Government, whose governor and mayor belong to opposing parties, with their followers attending the rally in the public plaza this morning.

Earlier, the City Government led by Mayor Fahad Salic passed a resolution urging PResident Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from “refraining” to implement the Balikatan exercises. The Provincial Government led by Governor Mohammad Khalid Mamintal Adiong said, the province would oppose the exercises if this was the “will of the people.”

No consultations were held on the coming February 18 exercises catching the Maranao public off-guard.

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 tarpauline 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 utlized in other countries like Iraq, ” said one rallyist.

A major religious leader Aleem Abu Saranggani , head of the influential Markazz Shabbab organization, said the exercises would 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.