Philippines recaptures mutineer, rumours continue


  • World
  • Tuesday, 21 Feb 2006

By Manny Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine security forces on Tuesday recaptured a second soldier who escaped last month while facing mutiny charges, but analysts say the rearrest does not change a security situation plagued by exaggerated threats. 

The army said Lieutenant Lawrence San Juan was picked up along with his lawyer in San Felipe village, about 100 km south of Manila. 

Senior Superintendent Samuel Pagdilao, a spokesman for the national police, said San Juan, who had been under surveillance for more than two weeks, was on his way to link up with the leaders of the New People's Army, armed members of the Philippine communist rebel movement. 

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. 

The escape of the officers fueled rumours of a plot to unseat President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who survived an impeachment attempt last year over allegations of vote-rigging and corruption. 

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

"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." 

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." 

The Philippine peso hit a three-week low of 52.10 per dollar minutes after the start of local trading on Tuesday but suspected dollar sales by the central bank helped it recover to around 52 pesos per dollar in late morning. 

Manila's stock exchange was broadly flat, trading down 0.28 percent at 0345 GMT. 

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

In July 2003 troops seized a luxury apartment tower in Manila's business district and demanded that Arroyo step down over allegations of corruption in the government and armed forces. But the mutiny was put down in less than 24 hours. 

(Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco and Carmel Crimmins) 

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