Sun, Jun 12, 2005 - Page 5 News List

In the Philippines, people prepare for yet another coup

DPA , MANILA

Protestors march in the streets of Manila demanding Philippine President Gloria Arroyo step-down, yesterday. The Philippine military has put an estimated 6,000 troops on alert amid fears of widespread anti-government demonstrations planned to coincide with the nation's Independence Day celebrations today.

PHOTO: AFP

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is finding out the hard way that what goes around, comes around.

Barely one year after narrowly winning bitterly fought elections in May last year, Arroyo has found herself in a situation hauntingly similar to what her disgraced predecessor, Joseph Estrada, faced months before he was ousted in a mass uprising in January 2001.

For the past few days, Filipinos have been glued to their television sets, watching public hearings at the Senate where witnesses have accused Arroyo's family members of receiving illegal gambling payoffs.

At the same time, news programs over the radio have been replaying a taped conversation allegedly between Arroyo and a senior election official about fixing the presidential vote.

While the government has dismissed the recording as a fabrication and part of a new coup plot, the scandal has cast doubts on Arroyo's victory as opposition leaders again accuse her of being a fake president.

It has also placed Arroyo at risk of facing an uprising herself as the alleged source of the taped conversation joined mounting calls for her resignation, warning that he had more damaging evidence against her.

"The noose is tightening on Gloria," said Ninez Cacho-Olivares, publisher and editor in chief of the critical Daily Tribune newspaper. "Gloria has dug for herself a grave. She is now buried, six feet under."

The scandals erupted as Arroyo's public approval rating plunged to a record low for any leader of the country since 1986, amid rising consumer prices and higher taxes.

According to the survey, not even Estrada, who was ousted due to allegations he pocketed millions of dollars in kickbacks from illegal gambling operators, received a lower public approval rating than Arroyo.

Political analyst Benito Lim said the world was indeed getting smaller for Arroyo, but the present crisis was likely to drag on and the outcome remains uncertain.

"The way I look at it, we are at a stalemate, we are in limbo," he said. "Gloria is really crippled and that is bad because she cannot govern anymore, but the people seem reluctant to remove her."

Lim said that the opposition cannot offer a credible alernative leader and program of grovernment in case Arroyo is removed.

"This will drag on," he said. "We are in for very difficult times."

Opposition Senator Aquilino Pimentel said Arroyo should step down and call for a snap elections to avoid an uprising.

"With a credibility rating several notches below zero, with corruption snapping at her heels and with a clearly questionable electoral mandate, the president no longer has any right to claim that she has the integrity or the moral ascendancy to continue sitting as president," he said.

In January 2001, when Estrada was removed from office, Pimentel was the one who held the microphone as Arroyo took her oath of office as the new president.

Four years later, the two are on the opposite side of the fence.

Arroyo, 58, a US-trained economist, has vowed to fight any attempts to undermine her mandate, stressing that she won fairly in last year's elections.

She also ordered an investigation into the allegations against her husband, eldest son and brother-in-law, stressing that no one in her family was above the law.

"I won nearly 40 percent of the votes, with a margin of 1 million votes," Arroyo said. "That size of margin cannot be achieved by cheating."

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