Wed, Nov 05, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Judge row rocks the Philippines

HIGH STAKES President Gloria Arroyo said she would put down any attempt to stir an uprising as the country's chief judge faces a Senate trial and possible impeachment

REUTERS , MANILA

Hundreds of Philippine soldiers went on standby yesterday at the main military camp in Manila as a constitutional crisis brewed over attempts to impeach the country's top judge.

Tension has been running high for the past week after a move by opposition lawmakers to oust Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide prompted street protests and fears of conflict between the government, legislature and judiciary.

Davide, who faces a possible Senate trial over accusations he misused public funds, has said the country was at risk from "military adventurism" if the impasse between Congress and the judiciary was not resolved soon.

The government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo peacefully put down an attempted coup by several hundred junior officers in July, but talk persists of restiveness in the military as the nation gears for an election next May.

On Friday, Arroyo told division commanders to account for all their troops and warned them she had "the will, the authority and the resources to quell any disorder or attempts at destabilization."

Major-General Hermogenes Esperon, the military's operations chief, said, "We are here to provide stability.

"The troops will only be sent out to quell public disorder. Otherwise, they will remain inside camp because we don't want to raise undue alarm."

About 400 police would be brought into the capital as reinforcements from nearby provinces, said Director Enrique Galang of the Philippine National Police.

"We have also raised heightened alert in certain areas," he said without elaborating.

On Monday, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Lucero told reporters the armed forces had no intention of joining either side in the dispute over Davide.

"The alert level status has nothing to do with those rumors being spread that some members of the armed forces will be joining any destabilization move," he said.

"We can assure the public that no member of the armed forces will join any attempt to grab power," he said.

Protests over the impeachment are planned this week and are expected to continue until Nov. 10, when the House of Representatives and Senate resume business after a 12-day holiday that is being used to seek a compromise.

Supporters of former president Joseph Estrada, himself the subject of an impeachment trial before his 2001 ouster, are mobilizing poor urban residents in favor of the impeachment.

The powerful Roman Catholic church and former president Corazon Aquino have been leading the fight against it.

With the peso taking a pounding from the latest round of political uncertainty, and dozens of bills awaiting approval in Congress, many Filipinos are not impressed with the behavior of some of their politicians.

"They seem determined to sacrifice the whole country in order to achieve their own selfish, evil ends," C.M. Paulin, a doctor living in the US, wrote in a letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper.

"I hope and pray that the present snowballing uproar among the people, stirred up by this perfidious gang of mental pygmies, will translate into their total repudiation at the 2004 polls," he wrote.

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