February 17, 2006

Philippines says anti-Arroyo plot under control

By John O'Callaghan

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippine government and armed
forces said they were containing a plot to overthrow and
perhaps even kill President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo by fugitive
mutineers backed by retired officers and opposition figures.

"Everything is under control," Lieutenant Colonel Tristan
Kison, the armed forces spokesman, said on radio on Friday.

He said extra security was in place and the justice
department was investigating the masterminds but troops were on
normal alert.

"We discovered that there are some who are recruiting, but
I cannot tell you who they are," Kison said. "Knowing and
proving are different things."

Last year, Arroyo survived a political crisis, including an
impeachment attempt, over allegations of vote-rigging and

Rumors of unrest are common in the Philippines after a
dozen coup attempts in the past 20 years and popular uprisings
backed by the army that toppled presidents in 1986 and 2001.

Police in Manila went on heightened but not maximum alert
on Friday over reports of large anti-Arroyo protests planned
for February 24, the day before the country marks the 20th
anniversary of the "people power" revolt that ousted dictator
Ferdinand Marcos.

"Monitor well and be ready for any contingency," said the
capital's police chief, Vidal Querol.

Opponents suspect Arroyo's government of amplifying threats
to ward off plotters and seek sympathy.

Fresh talk of a plot by some elements of the military has
been growing since the escape from an army camp in January of
four alleged leaders of a bloodless, one-day mutiny in 2003.

Quoting two senior generals, Reuters reported details of
the plot on Thursday, including a mass escape of mutineers
originally set for January, taking hostages at a gathering of
military commanders, occupying army camps and removing Arroyo.

Intelligence officials said a politician identified with
the opposition was offering up to 500 million pesos ($9.7
million) to oust Arroyo, an economist whose term is due to run
until 2010.

The two generals said two politicians, one with a military
background, and several retired officers had been identified as
the masterminds of the four-phase plot.


Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said the rogue troops
planned to assassinate him and Arroyo.

"The president is aware of this. They mentioned two names
in their plot," he said on Thursday. "It's me and the

He said a document with details of the plot had been found
in the locker of one of 27 mutiny leaders still in detention.

"They were supposed to carry out a mass jail break on
either January 20 or 21," he said, adding that the plan was to
have culminated this month or in March, when the president was
due to address graduates of the Philippine Military Academy.

Arroyo, who is also commander-in-chief, is to skip this
weekend's annual reunion of the academy, one of the alleged
targets of the plot.

Arroyo called generals to a security briefing on Thursday,
a day after six armored vehicles beefed up defences at the
presidential palace.

On Thursday, one of the four escaped mutiny leaders called
on Filipinos to wear red bands on their left arms to protest
against "the fake government of Macapagal Arroyo."

(With reporting by Wendy Ferrer and Rosemarie Francisco)