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Philippine police arrest opposition leaders, raid newspaper office

Sunday, February 26, 2006

MANILA, Philippines -- Police arrested at least three vocal critics of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and raided a newspaper Saturday following her declaration of a state of emergency to quash a coup plot.

Arroyo set off an uproar with her decree Friday as Filipinos celebrated the 20th anniversary of dictator Ferdinand Marcos' ouster in a "people power" revolt, and even some supporters questioned the move.

"I was appalled," said her most crucial ally, former President Fidel Ramos, a military commander whose withdrawal of support for Marcos helped bring about his downfall.

Like others, Ramos compared the emergency declaration to the martial-law dictates that Marcos used to stay in power. Ramos accused Arroyo of "killing the spirit" brought by democracy protests two decades ago and said the decree seemed unjustified since no actual coup attempt occurred.

"President Arroyo has succeeded in giving Philippine democracy another big, ugly black eye," Senate President Franklin Drilon said.

The emergency declaration bans rallies, allows arrests without warrants, permits the president to call in the military to intervene and lets her take over facilities -- including media outlets -- that may affect national security.

Early Saturday, police barged into the offices of The Daily Tribune, which has been among Arroyo's strongest critics.

Officers confiscated editorial materials and a bundle of newspapers headlining Arroyo's declaration. Police also were posted at the door, but it was not clear if they intended to close the offices, said publisher Ninez Cacho Olivarez, whose family owns the paper.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines condemned the raid "in the strongest words possible."

Rep. Crispin Beltran, a member of the leftist Anakpawis party, was taken into custody for questioning Saturday. Local media said it was in connection with an old rebellion case.

Two former police generals also were taken detained at a golf course. One had urged Arroyo to resign and the other backed another candidate in the 2004 election won by Arroyo.

Arroyo, who has survived two coup tries and numerous other crises during five tumultuous years in power, imposed a state of emergency Friday after the military's top brass announced they had stymied a plot by disgruntled troops to join demonstrations called to demand the president resign.

The president has said the declaration was needed to prevent a breakdown in law and order. But imposing it was a dangerous move in a country still sensitive to threats to democracy long after Marcos' strongman rule.

"The Filipino people ousted a dictator once, we can overthrow another tyrant again," said the militant Workers' Party.

The government canceled commemorations of the "people power" anniversary.

Shortly after Arroyo declared the state of emergency, riot police quickly used force to disperse two protests. They arrested 25 people, including political commentator Randy David, a respected professor who has asked Arroyo to resign.

The military has played major roles in two "people power" revolts and has a recent history of restiveness, so Arroyo also ordered a security clampdown, with military camps barricaded to keep troops from joining demonstrations.

Military chiefs said that they backed Arroyo and that they had eased the threat of a coup, but hadn't wiped it out completely.

Former Education Secretary Florencio Abad urged people to resist what he called growing repression of basic rights.

"My fear is this is going to isolate this government further and it will force ... Arroyo to rely more and more on extreme reactionary elements of (the) military," Abad said.


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