Sat, Aug 02, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Coup threat not over: Manila

PRESENT DANGER Philippine authorities say that the threat of a plot to overthrow the government is still alive, as about 100 mutinous troops are still unaccounted for

REUTERS , MANILA

The Philippine government said yesterday that a coup plot behind an uprising by renegade soldiers last weekend may have included plans to kill President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and other officials.

"The assassination has been the subject of an intelligence report, not only of the president but some other personalities, but we did not deem it wise to make that public," Interior Secretary Jose Lina told local television.

The intelligence report had yet to be validated and the government had the situation under control, Lina added.

The National Bureau of Investigation is seeking coup charges against 321 rogue troops now in detention, but Armed Forces Chief of Staff Narciso Abaya said on Thursday "the threat is still alive" with other soldiers still unaccounted for.

Local media reported that about 100 heavily armed men were missing, while mobile phone text messages circulating in the rumor-loving nation said that 500 Marines were on the loose.

Arroyo warned on Thursday the Philippines was not totally out of danger after the ninth army uprising in 17 years. She insists she will not run in elections due by May 2004, but Arroyo has many enemies who would like to ensure she cannot reverse course.

"It was not a simple mutiny, it was a coup d'etat," Lina told a Senate defense committee that began a probe yesterday of the siege at a luxury hotel in Manila's business district on July 27.

"There is a civilian component to this coup d'etat."

Government officials are pinning the blame on the camp of former president Joseph Estrada, who is on trial for economic plunder after being ousted by an army-backed popular revolt in 2001 that elevated Arroyo from vice president to the top job.

State prosecutors have filed rebellion charges against Ramon Cardenas, a member of Estrada's cabinet, accusing him of promoting the uprising after police said they found weapons and red armbands used by the mutineers at a house he owns.

Estrada denies any involvement and accused the government of "Gestapo-like work" yesterday, after newspapers said intelligence agents tried to sneak into the office of his son Jose.

"The government's plan is to keep planting evidence in the houses of those identified with me," he said on local radio.

Lina said on television investigators were also gathering evidence against Gregorio Honasan, an opposition senator and former army colonel involved in coup plots in the 1980s.

"It's true that the plot is far from over, but it's being contained," Arroyo said on Thursday.

Arroyo said her declaration of a state of rebellion -- which allows security forces, including the army, to make arrests without a warrant -- would remain in force.

But she denied it was a precursor to martial law, a very sensitive issue among Filipinos after years of rights abuses during the rule of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

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