Wed, Jul 30, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Plotters live in `dark ages,' Arroyo says

TOUGH TALK One day after police arrested a close associate of former president Joseph Estrada, Arroyo vowed to crack down on insurgents threatening rebellion


Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday threatened to crush political rivals linked to last weekend's military mutiny, saying attempts to destabilize her government were being made by those who "still live in the dark ages of dictatorship and deception."

"All plotters will be brought to justice," she said.

Brigadier General Victor Corpus, the military intelligence chief, said the thwarted mutiny was "only the tip of the iceberg" and that anti-government feelings remained among some soldiers and their civilian supporters.

The warning came a day after police arrested a close ally of disgraced ex-president Joseph Estrada for allegedly aiding young disaffected military officers who led the brazen, but bloodless, rebellion on Sunday.

Officers detained Ramon Cardenas, a member of Estrada's old cabinet, and accused him of operating a "safe house" for the mutineers -- stacked with assault rifles and ammunition.

About 300 renegade soldiers, who gave up after a 19-hour standoff in downtown Manila, are now confined to barracks indefinitely. Their rebel officers face possible courts martial.

Investigators have said other key civilian cronies of Estrada -- who has been put on trial for corruption by Arroyo's administration -- would also be arrested soon.

Estrada has denied involvement.

"I have nothing to gain from this incident," he said in a statement.

Additionally, police are investigating another high-profile Arroyo opponent, Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan -- now a senator who staged at least two attempted coups that plagued then president Corazon Aquino in the years after the 1986 "people power" revolt, which toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Arroyo, apparently concerned that the same tactics are being used against her, has ordered a full inquiry into Sunday's mutiny.

"The resort to destabilization can only be the handiwork of the most desperate groups that have completely lost their moral compass," she said in a statement.

"We must not only bring them to justice, we must awaken them to the modern world in which the use of force to attain political ends is no longer an accepted model of change, especially in democratic societies such as ours," she said. "They must be crushed if they persist."

Arroyo later attended a thanksgiving Mass, where the influential Roman Catholic archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin, appealed to the country's leadership to remain committed to political and economic reforms to stamp out graft and poverty.

"If we never learn, our thanksgiving today adds to nothing. We might be nursing another mutiny again," Sin said, adding it was urgent for the government to attend to the mutineers' "legitimate grievances."

"This is not the time for congratulations. No one won last Sunday. What is needed is immediate reform, firm discipline and a strong will to sustain it," he said.

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