posted 05-01-2001 10:31 AM
About a month ago on CLiff's board, I mentioned that one of the nice diversions they planned for us (and to get about 20,000 GIs out of the country) was a civil war in the Phillipines. This is the opening gambit.
By Paul Tait
MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (news - web sites) declared a state of rebellion Tuesday and arrested key political rivals after turning back an attempt by tens of thousands of opposition supporters to storm the presidential palace.
Two policemen and a protester died during a night of violence in central Manila when supporters of deposed President Joseph Estrada (news - web sites) tried to break down the gates of Malacanang presidential palace.
But calm had generally returned by late Tuesday evening with only small groups of Estrada supporters still on the streets.
``The demonstrations...were funded by people with a political agenda,'' Arroya said on national television. ``It is clear that their goal is to bring down the legitimate government.''
She vowed to crush the rebellion, saying anyone plotting to overthrow the government would be ``beaten to a pulp.''
The declaration of a state of rebellion allows authorities to arrest suspects without a warrant and is the first of three steps a president can take to maintain law and order. Subsequent steps are the suspension of habeas corpus rights and martial law.
Arroyo told CNN she did not think it would be necessary to declare martial law, but would not say when the state of rebellion would be lifted.
The current Philippine political crisis was triggered earlier this year when Estrada was swept from office in a ''people power'' revolt fuelled by popular disgust with a senate decision not to allow key prosecution evidence in his impeachment trial for corruption.
Although Estrada -- now under arrest at a maximum security detention center south of the capital -- still maintains he had only ``temporarily'' vacated office, the Supreme Court swore in Arroyo as president exactly 100 days ago.
Tuesday the government moved swiftly against those accused of inciting Estrada's supporters to storm the palace, ordering arrest warrants for four key politicians including former defense secretary Juan Ponce Enrile.
Chief state prosecutor Jovencito Zuno told reporters the government planned to arrest Enrile and other Estrada allies Miriam Defensor Santiagio and Gregorio Honasan -- all senators seeking re-election on May 14 -- as well as Panfilo Lacson, police chief under Estrada.
Customs Commissioner Andrea Domingo told reporters an order had been issued preventing at least nine opposition figures from leaving the country -- including the four identified by Zuno.
In a statement issued from his detention center, Estrada called on his supporters to avoid further violence -- but did not call for them to disperse.
``I earnestly call on our people today for calm and sobriety, and to exercise restraint in the face of the grave crisis facing our nation today,'' he said.
``We must not give this regime any reason to further trample on our rights of assembly by using excessive force. We must not also give this regime an excuse to declare martial law to ensure its continued stay in power and to further inflict harm on its own people.''
Police said 103 protesters had been arrested and 36 policemen were hurt during the overnight violence.
An Arroyo aide said the protesters could be heard through the walls of the palace -- which is defended by high walls on three sides, and a river on the fourth -- saying the atmosphere inside Malacanang was ``scary.''
But a defiant Arroyo said she had not been worried and was firmly in control.
Arroyo Says Not Worried
Asked on national television why she had looked worried when she left the palace earlier Tuesday to thank the troops who had guarded her, Arroyo said: ``No, I wasn't worried. Its just that I hadn't put on my make-up!''
Overnight, witnesses said police and soldiers had persistently fired warning shots in the air and sent teargas rounds into the crowd -- which at one point was over 40,000 strong.
Reuters photographer Bobby Ranoco said one protester's face ''had been blown apart'' by a gunshot. Arroyo said two police officers had been killed and nearby shops and homes looted.
Earlier this week, Philippine newspapers speculated that opposition politicians and some military officers were planning a coup to install a civilian-military junta, but there was no sign the crowd in front of the palace was backed by any more serious support.
Nevertheless, Arroyo said more arrests of top officials were expected and coup plotters would be ``beaten to a pulp.''
Randy David, a political analyst from the University of the Philippines, said he thought the opposition attempt to force Arroyo from office by a ``people power'' revolt would not work.
David said he saw a division in the movement between genuine Estrada supporters -- who are the underprivileged with accumulated resentment against social injustice -- and opposition political figures taking advantage of them.
The former movie star turned president -- who still retains much popular support among the urban poor -- faces a charge of economic plunder for alleged corruption during his 31-month rule. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to death, or life imprisonment.
Influential Philippines Catholic Cardinal Jaime Sin, speaking at the Edsa shrine earlier Tuesday, called for calm.
``In this mass we continue to pray for peace, we pray for enlightenment and sobriety,'' Sin said told a mass, attended by thousands of Arroyo supporters.
The instability has already sent financial markets lower.