By David Fox
MANILA, May 1 (Reuters) – Defiant Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo vowed on Tuesday to crush what she called a carefully planned rebellion, saying anyone plotting to overthrow the government would be “beaten to a pulp”.
Arroyo, facing the biggest crisis of her presidency since being sworn in exactly 100 days ago, said an attempt by tens of thousands of supporters of former ruler Joseph Estrada to storm the presidential palace overnight was part of planned rebellion.
“We have the evidence, we have the proof…this was a carefully planned rebellion,” Arroyo told national television after spending the night in the Malacanang Presidential palace which was besieged by over 40,000 people.
Three people were killed – two police officers and a protester – as the mob repeatedly charged the palace gates.
Only small groups of Estrada supporters were still on the streets by Tuesday night, but witnesses said around 6,000 Arroyo backers gathered in a counter protest as the May Day holiday drew to a close.
Arroyo on Tuesday declared a “state of rebellion” – two stages down from martial law – which means authorities can arrest without a warrant anyone suspected of planning to overthrow the government.
She also barred assemblies of more than five people around Malacanang.
Speaking from behind her desk in the presidential office, Arroyo – wearing a flowered suit and pearl earrings – said she was in complete control of the country and had the full backing of the military, the church and the masses.
“I was never worried,” she said. “They attempted (rebellion), I crushed them.”
Asked why she looked concerned as she thanked troops on Tuesday for seeing off the palace attack, Arroyo grinned broadly and said: “No, I wasn’t worried. Its just that I hadn’t put on my make-up!”
Arroyo, once a class mate and still a good friend of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, is renowned as a punchy politician despite her diminutive four foot 11 inch frame.
On Tuesday she pulled no punches when she described how she would deal with those she charges with plotting the rebellion – specifically Estrada’s former police chief Panfilo Lacson, who has gone into hiding.
“He will be beaten to a pulp,” she said, if he tried to challenge legitimate authorities.
Chief state prosecutor Jovencito Zuno said the government planned to arrest Lacson as well as Estrada allies Juan Ponce Enrile, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Gregorio Honasan – all senators seeking re-election on May 14.
Customs Commissioner Andrea Domingo told reporters an order had been issued preventing at least nine opposition figures from leaving the country – including the four identified by Zuno.
Earlier this week, Philippine newspapers speculated that opposition politicians and some military officers were planning a coup to install a civilian-military junta.
Arroyo insisted on Tuesday that the threat had been real and had unsettled the country.
“There is a state of rebellion. You can’t call it business as usual. What I have to do is crush the rebellion.”
Arroyo assumed power after a broad alignment of army, church and business backed the removal of Estrada for what they saw as serious mismanagement of the economy and government.
Estrada is being held at a maximum security detention centre at Laguna City, 50 km (30 miles) south of Manila. He faces charges of corruption and economic plunder and a possible death sentence if convicted.
By David Fox
MANILA, May 3 (Reuters) – For tens of thousands of ordinary Filipinos, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“No government has done anything to actually improve my life,” Rita Hornandes said as she doled out beef stew and rice from her hawker stall on Manila’s Roxas Boulevard on Thursday.
“I am doing what my mother did…my daughter will end up doing what I do,” she said. “How can anything change?”
Hornandes, 40, was speaking three days after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo crushed an attempt by tens of thousands of supporters of detained former leader Joseph Estrada to storm the nearby Malacanang presidential palace complex.
Although the attempt failed, it was the latest manifestation of the “people power” type of politics that have dominated the Philippines since a big popular uprising overthrew dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
Hornandes said she took part in the marches that led to the ousting of Marcos, swept along by the party spirit of the crowd and buoyed by the prospect of change promised by his successor, Corazon Aquino.
“I had a typical life,” she said. “I was one of eight children, I did not get much schooling and I got pregnant when I was deceived by love.”
Her last statement is greeted by knowing laughter from nearby stallholders – almost all women with the same story to tell.
“Those were very exciting times. We really thought our lives would get better,” said Esmerelda Cruz. “But unless your are born rich, you cannot get better.”
Many of the stall holders said they had joined the crowd calling for Estrada’s reinstatement this week, saying he had been unfairly singled out for punishment.
“Marcos made millions, he had no trial,” said Bing Polos, seated on the running board of his jeepney, the ubiquitous gaudy buses which most working class Filipinos rely on for transport.
“Then Cory (Aquino) made millions. What about her? And what about Ramos?” he said, referring to Fidel Ramos, who preceded Estrada.
“The problem is that Erap (Estrada) is a hero, he is fighting for the poor and the rich don’t like it.”
Like many of Estrada’s mainly impoverished supporters, Polos appeared to confuse Estrada the politician with Estrada the movie actor, famous for roles in which he played the good guy fighting against crime and corruption.
Many seem unable to believe his ousting, arrest and subsequent detention are not just part of the script of the latest blockbuster – particularly as so much of the drama has been played out on television in the full glare of the media.
“I cried when I saw him being escorted to jail. I saw it on TV,” said Nita, speaking in a squatter camp in Pio del Pilar.
“He is not an animal he deserves better treatment. To us, Erap is still president,” said Ruth Lozada, 39.
And many fully expect him to break out of prison and get even with his enemies.
“It isn’t over yet,” said Manny Lopez, a self-taught mechanic. “Wait and see what happens.”
But Estrada’s fate looks bleak. Along with his son Jinggoy, he faces multiple charges of graft and economic plunder – the latter can be punished by death.
The government swiftly cracked down on this week’s attempt to storm the presidential palace, declaring a state of rebellion and ordering the arrest of opposition politicians it says were instigators.
It has also banned gatherings of more than five people around Malacanang – a move the opposition says is flagrantly undemocratic coming less than two weeks before congressional elections.
But some analysts believe the real losers remain the country’s impoverished millions who feel they have lost a champion because of a politically elite clique.
Randolph David, sociology professor at the University of the Philippines, said Arroyo had assumed power because she had played a delicate balancing act between the military, church, and civil society, but she had ignored the masses.
“She has yielded ground and concessions to all these groups but not yet to the poor,” he said. “Not that she doesn’t like to but that she has no money. The budget deficit is a problem – it’s as simple as that.”
And he warned that Estrada’s politically important backers should be wary of letting the genie out of the bottle should they encourage more popular protests.
“Don’t these people realise they are not of that crowd? They belong to enclaves of the elite,” David said.