Arroyo brushes off coup fears as rumours rumble on


  • World
  • Tuesday, 21 Feb 2006

By Manny Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said on Tuesday that rogue military officers would not succeed in plotting against her because the majority of the army and police remained loyal. 

"It is not the coups that we are concerned about, what we should address are the destabilisers," Arroyo, who survived an impeachment attempt last year over allegations of vote-rigging, told a briefing for foreign journalists in Manila. 

Philippines' President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo smiles after attending a mass at the Manila Cathedral, February 21, 2006. Arroyo said on Tuesday that rogue military officers would not succeed in plotting against her because the majority of the army and police remained loyal. (REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo)

Her comments came as the military recaptured a second soldier who escaped last month while facing mutiny charges. 

Lieutenant Lawrence San Juan, one of the alleged leaders of a failed 2003 coup, was rearrested in San Felipe village, about 100 km south of Manila. Three other mutineers remain on the run. 

Security forces ambushed San Juan, who had been under surveillance for more than two weeks, while he was breakfasting with two senior members of the New People's Army, armed members of the Philippine communist rebel movement. 

The army officer was captured after giving chase but the NPA guerrillas escaped, Lieutenant Colonel Restituto Padilla, an airforce spokesman, told Reuters. 

Last month, army intelligence teams re-arrested Captain Nicanor Faeldon, who was also on trial over the bloodless, one-day mutiny in 2003, after 44 days as a fugitive. 

Analysts said Tuesday's rearrest did not alter the security situation in the Philippines, which is plagued by exaggerated threats. 

"Arroyo may be weak, but she is safe and is in no danger of being removed by force during the first six months of 2006," said Earl Parreno, a political analyst of the Institute of Political and Electoral Reforms (IPER). 

"The threats were bloated out of proportions. There may be groups within the army that were not happy with her, but they have no capability to stage a coup." 

Last week the government said there was a fresh plan to overthrow and possibly kill Arroyo, but analysts said the government had often played up threats to ward off plotters and garner public sympathy.\ 

MORE NOISE 

Erin Prelypchan of Manila-based Pacific Strategies & Assessments said San Juan's rearrest could have been timed to coincide with this week's 20th anniversary of a "people power" revolt that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. 

"It might have been timed to make them look like they are serious about shutting down any possible coup attempt. It doesn't change the threat environment," said Prelychan, adding that investors should shrug off the latest rumblings. 

"There is a lot more noise than real threats." 

Arroyo told reporters that her plans to change the constitution and move to a parliamentary system would help reduce political instability. 

"There is no more need for coups, for sham "people power" in a parliamentary system. Charter change will create greater political certainty." 

But Arroyo's reforms are opposed by a wide number of parties, including influential Roman Catholic bishops, because they involve cancelling the 2007 congressional elections. 

Police are on maximum alert in Manila over a possible plot and expectations of large protests planned for Feb. 24, the day before the anniversary of the "people power" revolt. 

An explosion shook the grounds of the presidential palace on Monday but security forces said it was probably caused by chemicals in a garbage bin set off by a lit cigarette, not a bomb. 

The Philippines faces threats from communist rebels, Muslim separatists with links to Al Qaeda and regional terror network Jemaah Islamiah. 

But the armed forces, undermined by corruption and lack of funds, have spawned at least a dozen coup attempts since Marcos was ousted. 

(Additional reporting by Dolly Aglay, Rosemarie Francisco and Carmel Crimmins) 

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