Arroyo undermined by mutiny


A mutiny by soldiers, even a small and bloodless one, is rarely good for a government's image.

Last weekend's uprising in the Philippines gave investors and foreign allies another reason to worry, just weeks after one of South East Asia's key terrorism suspects strolled out of a cell at national police headquarters in Manila.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo won praise and military aid from the United States, South Korea and Australia for her government's efforts to contain home grown Muslim and communist rebels, as well as the regional militant group Jemaah Islamiah.

If the easy escape of Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, an Indonesian suspected of several deadly bombings, was bad for Mrs Arroyo's credibility, then the 19-hour siege by nearly 300 renegade soldiers in the heart of the capital was even worse.

But the real damage could come from the explosive allegations made by the mutineers that the government and senior military officers made hand-in-glove deals with Muslim rebels, staged bombings to make them look like guerrilla attacks and were setting the stage for martial law to avoid elections due by May 2004.

Roilo Golez, the National Security Adviser, said the government acknowledged a certain degree of corruption and was ready to deal with it, but stopped short at the idea of the military committing acts of terrorism.

"That's a very wild accusation," he told the BBC.

"Those things are not done in a civilised country like the Philippines."

Root cause

Mrs Arroyo, who insists she will not run in next year's election, has pledged to get to the heart of the grievances that sparked the mutiny - as she alludes to behind-the-scenes manipulations by some of her political opponents.

Joel Rocamora, head of the Institute for Popular Democracy, a Manila-based think-tank, said rot in the military set in during the two-decade rule of Ferdinand Marcos but that some younger, more idealistic soldiers were angry about the culture of graft and their inability to change the situation for the better.

"If President Arroyo takes these investigations into corruption in the Philippine military seriously and she actually manages to do something about what those young people are very unhappy with, I think she will actually come out stronger as a result of the coup attempt than if it never happened," he said.

Ms Arroyo was given the full support of military chiefs during the mutiny.

But she owes a great deal of her own political position to the generals who blessed her rise from vice president when President Joseph Estrada was ousted by a "People Power" uprising in January 2001.

"The military was the one that, in the end, forced Estrada out by saying: 'We're not going to obey you anymore'," Mr Rocamora said.

"If you come in as president under those conditions then somewhere in the back of your mind - or in front - you must worry that maybe they'll do to me what they did to Estrada."

The mutiny ended without violence and all of the troops - both rebellious and loyal - left central Manila for their barracks shortly afterwards.

The mutineers face court martial proceedings.

The Philippines has seen a couple of coups and half a dozen attempts over the years, which inevitably heighten anxiety about the risks of visiting or investing.

But long-time observers played down the weekend mutiny.

"Foreign investors, if they are knowledgeable or sensible enough, won't be taking it seriously," said Peter Wallace, who runs an economic consultancy in Manila.

"If you had been away over the weekend and came back on Monday you would never have known it had happened."


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