- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2006

MANILA — Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a state of emergency yesterday, saying she had quashed a coup plot. But the Philippines still faced a “clear threat” from treasonous forces.

Clashes erupted as protesters marched on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the culmination of a four-day “people power” uprising that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Riot police used water cannons to disperse about 5,000 protesters defying a ban on rallying at a shrine to the uprising on a major highway in the capital.

Police used truncheons and shields to roust a stone-throwing group trying to gather for a second protest in the same area. Several people were arrested; others were bloodied.

Former President Corazon Aquino and about 5,000 people were later allowed to march peacefully in the financial district to a memorial to her late husband, Benigno, whose assassination in 1983 sparked massive protests that led to the revolt against Marcos.

The protesters want Mrs. Arroyo to resign because of accusations of election rigging during the 2004 polls, as well as corruption and human rights abuses such as the killing of activists by security forces. Mrs. Arroyo vigorously denies the accusations.

Amid a massive security clampdown, the military barricaded its camps to keep troops from joining the demonstrations and detained an army general reportedly involved in the takeover plot. The military has played major roles in two “people power” revolts and has a recent history of restiveness.

While she vowed she was in control, Mrs. Arroyo clearly was worried about losing her grip on events as her opponents tried to hijack the anniversary activities.

Many Filipinos see the four-day “people power” revolt that toppled Marcos on Feb. 25, 1986, as their country’s proudest moment.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye told reporters that commemorations have been canceled and that the military was ordered “to prevent and suppress lawless violence.”

Mrs. Arroyo, who survived two earlier coup attempts, said the political opposition, along with extreme elements of the political left and right, were determined to bring down the elected government.

“I am declaring a state of emergency because of the clear threat to the nation,” a defiant Mrs. Arroyo said in a taped, nationally televised statement.

“This is my warning against those who threaten the government: the whole weight of the law will fall on your treason.”

She stopped short of declaring martial law, a sensitive issue because Marcos used it to rule by decree.

Her chief of staff, Mike Defensor, said no curfew will be imposed but the declaration bans rallies, allows arrest without warrant, permits the president to call in the military to intervene and lets her take over facilities — including press outlets — that may affect national security.

Mrs. Arroyo’s aides linked former President Joseph Estrada and several others to the plot.

Mr. Estrada, who was toppled in massive street protests in 2001 and held under house arrest on charges of plunder, dismissed the accusations.

He said he’s been out of work and under detention for five years and didn’t have the money to finance a coup. “I don’t have any work, how can I finance?” he asked.

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