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The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin, led a prayer rally by a broad coalition of Christians and activists in the Philippines capital December 7 to urge President Joseph "Erap" Estrada to resign immediately.

On the first day of impeachment hearings against the president, thousands of protesters, many of them Catholics, crowded into Manila's Roxas Boulevard to attend an open-air service described as a "protest Eucharist" and "prayer of the people." Most of those present represented Catholic parish councils and schools, as well as universities, business clubs, workers and women's groups.

"Mr. President, do not be afraid to resign," Cardinal Sin said in his homily. He told the president, a former star of action films: "I will take care of you. Resignation is not defeat. Only brave men do that."

He added: "The truth is you have lost your moral ascendancy to govern us. Face the truth, and be courageous. The country is already suffering."

Among those on stage with the cardinal were several Catholic bishops, former president, Corazon Aquino, the vice-president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and student representatives from Catholic schools. The protest was organized by a coalition of trade unions, political parties and citizens' rights groups.

Former president Aquino told protesters that resignation was a "kinder solution" to the crisis that had engulfed the Philippines government. Speaking before the start of the Mass, Aquino said it was not too late for Estrada "to do what is right in the service to the nation."

Estrada's refusal to step down had put the country on an "agonizing" track, with the economy spiraling out of control because of his extravagance and incompetence, Aquino said.

Pressure for the president to ...

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