May 8, 2006

Manila deputies march out of Congress after 71 days

By Roli Ng

MANILA (Reuters) - Five lawmakers accused of plotting
against Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo marched
from Congress with raised fists on Monday, ending a 71-day
confinement that has seen them become anti-government heroes.

About 1,000 supporters mobbed the politicians as they
stepped out of congress's lower house, where they had been
sheltering from arrest since Arroyo accused them of trying to
oust her in an alleged coup plot in February.

"We will not stop fighting for our freedom," Teodoro Casino
told Reuters, vowing to work for the release of a sixth
lawmaker Crispin Beltran, under police custody at a government

Separately on Monday, armed men lobbed a grenade at an
office of a left-wing labor union on the southern island of
Mindanao, wounding two people. No more details were available.

Arroyo had accused 49 people, including renegade soldiers,
communist rebels and the politicians, of plotting to oust her,
triggering a week long state of emergency.

But in a technical ruling last week, a Manila court
rejected rebellion charges against all but two of the accused,
leaving the politicians, dubbed "the housemates" after reality
TV show Big Brother, free to go.

During their first week at Congress, the five slept on the
carpeted floor of a meeting room before bringing foldable cots
in to their offices.

Their families brought in fresh clothes and cooked food for
them every day but it was a tough slog despite celebrating the
67th birthday of Satur Ocampo, the oldest of the five, with a
feast of roast pork and noodles.

"It's really difficult to sleep outside your own home. Our
three children missed their father a lot." Lita Mariano, wife
of Congressman Rafael Mariano, told Reuters.

She said she was hoping her husband's freedom would be
permanent, a gift for their 25th wedding anniversary next week.

Arroyo's government had initially insisted that the five
could still be arrested even after the court's decision but
backed down amid fears of violence if police tried to act
against them.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has said he will ask the
court to appeal its decision, the latest in a series of legal
blows against Arroyo.

Earlier this week, the country's top court said Arroyo's
media crackdown and detainment of several people without
charges during emergency rule was unconstitutional.

(Additional reporting by Lovely Lee, Jema Pascual and Anna
Rhea Teves)