December 12, 2005

Philippine army says uncovers plot against Arroyo

By Manny Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine troops loyal to President
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo uncovered an attempt by rogue soldiers
to seize power over the weekend, a senior military official
said on Monday.

Rumours of plots against Arroyo, or any other leader, are
relatively routine in the Philippines, where army-backed
"people power" uprisings toppled two presidents and there have
been at least a dozen coup attempts since 1986.

But fresh talk of action by some elements of the military,
before Christmas or early in the new year, began last week when
allegations of cheating by Arroyo in the 2004 elections were
resurrected in public inquiries in the two houses of Congress.

A senior general said disgruntled soldiers and police
officers were plotting to take over key military bases in
Manila and demand the resignation of Arroyo, who left on Sunday
for a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Malaysia.

The rogue soldiers were expecting the bulk of the military
to join them in withdrawing support for Arroyo and handing
power to a civilian-military junta, he said, citing
intelligence reports.

"We were waiting for them to strike but we're prepared to
hit back harder," the general told Reuters. "We can just
speculate why they did not move. Perhaps they knew we were

There were rumours several officers had been arrested but
they could not be confirmed. Military officials said they were
keeping watch for any unauthorised troop movements or other
signs of unrest.

The general said there were reports that a battalion of
Marines and police commando teams were ready to seize control
of an air base and the three major army bases in Manila.

Arroyo, who ended a one-day mutiny by about 300 soldiers
peacefully in 2003, survived an attempt to impeach her in
September over allegations of vote-rigging and corruption when
her allies in the lower house voted down the motion.


Security forces around Manila were placed on full alert as
Arroyo left for four days of meetings with other Southeast
Asian leaders on how the region can hasten economic
integration, fight terrorism and stop bird flu.

Heavily armed police commandos, backed by an armoured
vehicle, patrolled near the presidential palace.

"Whenever the president leaves the country, it is standing
operating procedure that the Armed Forces of the Philippines
declares a red alert," army spokesman Colonel Tristan Kison
told reporters, dismissing rumours of a fresh coup plot.

Despite the collapse of the impeachment attempt and a lack
of anger in the streets, Arroyo's government remains beset by
political turmoil over the allegations of corruption and
vote-rigging in the 2004 presidential election.

But senior military commanders have said they will uphold
the constitution and punish any errant soldiers.

"The armed forces is on top of the situation," Arroyo's
spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, said in a radio interview from
Malaysia on Monday, referring to rumours about a coup plot.

While Arroyo has had a difficult year, her government
points to a below-target budget deficit, record remittances
sent home by Filipinos working overseas and a stronger peso as
signs of success and confidence in the economy.

But all is not well for tens of millions of Filipinos hurt
by costlier food, fuel, power and transport from high oil
prices and a broader sales tax. Poverty, corruption,
underemployment and cuts in government spending remain as
serious social issues.

There are also rumours of a "first quarter coup" to try to
take advantage of public malaise in early 2006, when the
Christmas bills come due, the flow of money from abroad starts
to dry up and a higher sales tax rate is due to kick in.