Wednesday, July 30, 2003


Palace under heavy guard

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo exposed a military plot to overthrow her government and ordered a hunt for up to 60 officers and men involved in the revolt.

The President, who came to power in a military-led popular uprising in January 2001, said on national television that her government was in "full control" of the situation but appealed to the people to be vigilant.

Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Narciso Abaya declared his "full support" for Ms Macapgal and ordered the arrest of 10 junior officers who he said plotted against her government with backing from "between 40-50" fully armed men.

He said the men, the highest ranking of whom are captains, "can do a lot of damage."

Abaya listed the officers as follows:

Lieutenant (Senior Grade) Antonio Trillanes IV, Navy

Lieutenant (Senior Grade) James Layug, Navy

Captain Gerardo Gambala, Army

Captain Laurence Louis Somera, Army

Captain Milo Maestrecampo, Army

Captain Albert Baloloy, Army

1st Lieutenant Lawrence San Juan, Army

1st Lieutenant Florentino Somera, Army

1st Lieutenant Jose Enrico Demetrio Dingle, Army

1st Lieutenant Warren Lee Dagupon, Army

The 54-year-old Macapagal remained at the heavily-guarded Malacañang Palace and was unshaken, her aides said.

Armored military and police vehicles and heavily-armed soldiers barricaded the gates of the palace late Saturday, an Agence France-Presse correspondent said.

Scores of presidential security guards, clad in combat uniforms and armed with assault rifles, searched all vehicles passing through streets around Malacañang and turned away uninvited palace visitors.

Influential Manila Catholic Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin called on his flock to protect the President.

Sin is the de facto Catholic Church leader in the Philippines -- Asia's bastion of Catholicism -- where more than 80 percent of the country's 80 million people are practicing Roman Catholics.

Ms Macapagal warned the coup plotters Saturday of severe punishment, describing them as "fugitives from military justice."

She also warned "unscrupulous politicians who exploit the messianic complex of these officers for their naked ambitions."

Ms Macapagal did not identify these politicians but military spokesman Lieutenant General Rodolfo Garcia said supporters of former president Joseph Estrada may be behind the plot.

"We do not want to believe it yet, but there is information which we are verifying that (the plotters) are connected with the Estrada group," he told Agence France-Presse.

He refused to elaborate, saying, "I would not name names at this point."

Estrada denies involvement

In an interview with GMA Network television, Estrada categorically denied any involvement in the plot and said the government was only looking for a scapegoat. He added that he was unable to exercise any control over his followers if they acted on their belief that he remained the legitimate president of the Philippines after he was ousted in a military-backed popular uprising in 2001.

Estrada warned last week of a popular revolt against Ms Macapagal because she had illegally snatched the presidency from him.

Estrada, who is in jail on charges of corruption, insists he is still the president.

Civil society groups, which played a key role in ousting Estrada, gathered at the Edsa Shrine Saturday evening for a peace vigil in the wake of the reported rebellion.

Rumors that a military clique was plotting to overthrow the government had gripped Manila but Macapagal dismissed them last week when she met with a group of disaffected junior officers at a dinner at the Palace.

Military officials are said to have passed on complaints from junior officers over low pay, corruption and inadequate housing facilities for soldiers, and Macapagal had acknowledged the grievances among young military officers.

The Philippines suffered seven bloody coup attempts in the late 1980s, setting back economic development by years.

The United States embassy also backed Arroyo and expressed concern over the revolt.

"The United States is concerned, but we support the legitimate civilian government of the Republic of the Philippines," US embassy press officer Ron Post told Agence France-Presse.

Congressional leaders also condemned the revolt and said the plotters would not find support among "our democratic people," a statement said.

Arroyo is scheduled to deliver her State of the Nation address at the legislature on Monday where she is expected to unveil a package of political, economic, social and electoral reforms.

President gives rebels till 5 PM to lay down arms

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo gave military rebels partially occupying a mall until 5 p.m. Sunday to lay down their arms and authorized the Armed Forces Chief of Staff to employ "reasonable force" if the rebels did not comply.

The armed soldiers accused by the government of plotting a coup early Sunday took over a portion of the Ayala shopping center in the Makati financial district and set up explosives around the area.

Australian ambassador Ruth Pearce was among a group of foreign officials and residents trapped overnight in an apartment building in the area before being allowed to leave in buses on Sunday morning.

Surrounded by pro-government troops, the rebels demanded that President Gloria Arroyo and her cabinet step down, accusing them of breeding corruption and sponsoring terrorism, charges dismissed by the administration.

But Macapagals's National Security Adviser Roilo Golez and Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes said the government was prepared to negotiate an end to the siege.

The group of about 20 junior officers and 50 men, many said to be elite unit commanders and explosives experts, occupied the mall and were seen booby-trapping their perimeter.

They took action hours after President charged on national television that the soldiers attempted a coup against her administration. She ordered their arrest and vowed the "maximum" penalty for them.

The mall covers shopping complexes and high-rise apartment blocks, one of which was occupied by expatriates, including the Australian ambassador and several other Australian officials as well as French, Malaysians and Americans, among others.

Several armed mutineers set up sniper nests on top of the Oakwood apartment complex where the expatriates are living. The rebels had earlier given assurances they would evacuate those living or trapped in the area.

One of the leaders of the group, identified as Navy Lieutenant Senior Grade Antonio Trillanes, said: "We mean no harm to anyone." "We are putting these (bombs) to defend ourselves."

"They (the government) are putting a death warrant on us," he said, adding, "they want to suppress what we know."

Eyewitnesses and reports said the soldiers opened fire on a truck after it ignored a roadblock around an area they had occupied.

In a statement issued to news agencies, the mutineers identified themselves as "the Magdalo group," a name similar to one used by a band of Filipino revolutionaries who fought Spanish colonial rule in the 19th century.

Trillanes was among 10 of the officers who were identified as being part of the plot, all of them under 32 years of age.

The rogue soldiers, standing in a row against a red flag with a white sun symbol, made their stand in a video statement aired on television.

They wanted the government disbanded and called for what they called a "national recovery program" but did not give details.

The United States expressed its support for Macapagal and warned there would be "immediate negative consequences" to bilateral relations if the coup succeeded.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Jose Lina charged ex-military coup plotter-turned opposition senator Gregorio Honasan with involvement in the coup attempt.

Honasan, a former army colonel, popularly known as "Gringo", led two of the seven bloody coup attempts in the 1980s but was pardoned under a peace deal after which he entered politics.

Honasana denied the charge and said he had no links to rebel group.

The rogue soldiers on Sunday accused the government of selling ammunition and weapons to local Muslim separatist and communist rebels and blamed it for a series of deadly bombings this year in the southern Philippines.

The group also accuse Macapagal of planning to declare martial law in August, by using a series of bombings in the capital as the pretext to stay in power after her term ends in 2004.

Golez and Reyes denied the charges, labeling them "ridiculous."

The President, who came to power in a military-led popular uprising in January 2001, said Saturday that the rogue forces wanted to seize power but insisted her government was in "full control" of the situation.

Security was beefed up at the presidential palace with armed guards ringing the perimeter of the compound. Other key installations have been secured.

Military chief of staff General Narciso Abaya said he "fully supported" Macapagal, who had vowed not to contest in the presidential polls in May.

Rumours that a military clique was plotting to overthrow the government gripped Manila last week but Arroyo dismissed them when she met with a group of disaffected junior officers at her palace.

Junior military officers have complained of low pay, corruption and inadequate housing facilities for soldiers.

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