U.S., AUSTRALIA BACK ARROYO, DENOUNCE ARMY REVOLT IN RP

SINGAPORE, July 27, 2003 (STAR)  - Foreign allies led by the United States and Australia threw their support Sunday behind Philippine President Gloria Arroyo as she faced down rebel military officers demanding her resignation.

US State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore said in Washington that "no one should be under any doubt that we fully support the legitimate civilian government" of Arroyo, who has given the mutineers an ultimatum to surrender.

"At this time we have no reason to believe that there is a real threat to the Arroyo government," Moore said. "But let there be no mistake that a military coup would have immediate negative consequences, including consequences on the bilateral relationship."

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who was in Singapore for a bilateral visit when Filipino rebel soldiers seized an apartment tower in Manila where Australian ambassador Ruth Pearce was temporarily staying, denounced what he called a coup attempt by "dissident rebel army officers."

The ambassador and other foreigners emerged unharmed early Sunday from the Oakwood Tower apartments, part of a commercial center occupied and rigged with bombs by rebel soldiers in anticipation of a government counter-attack.

Asked by journalists if she ever felt threatened, Pearce said "no." She was temporarily staying at the apartment while her official residence was under renovation.

"This comes at a very difficult time when the Philippines is in the forefront of the war against terrorism," Downer told journalists in Singapore, citing Australia's strong support for Manila in the campaign against Southeast Asian extremist Islamic groups.

"The last thing any of us wants at this time is this kind of instability. We hope that this confrontation in Manila will be resolved in favour of the democratically elected government of the president of the Philippines," he said, warning that a successful coup would have a "very serious impact" on bilateral relations.

Arroyo was elected vice president in 1998 and took over from president Joseph Estrada after he was toppled by a popular uprising in January 2001. Estrada is now detained while on trial for alleged corruption. Supporters of Estrada who mounted a failed attempt to overthrow Arroyo in May 2001 are under suspicion of having links to the current unrest in Manila.

Singapore, one of the Philippines' closest partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), also backed the Arroyo government.

"We are concerned about the developments in Manila and we are monitoring the situation," a ministry spokesman said in response to media queries.

"The resort to unconstitutional means by the rebels is unacceptable. We have full confidence in President Arroyo's Government in restoring order."

Malaysian Ambassador to Manila Taufik Mohamed Noor said he was "shocked" by the developments.

"This is not good for the Philippines," he said.

Australia's Downer said soldiers demanding the replacement of the head of government amounted to "a coup, and that's not something to be encouraged, that's something to be resisted and opposed."

Arroyo was severely embarrassed earlier this month when a convicted Indonesian bomb expert and Islamic militant, Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, was discovered to have escaped from police detention in Manila as Australian Prime Minister John Howard was visiting the Philippines.

But Downer said in Singapore on Sunday: "we've been happy with our relationship with President Arroyo and her ministers."

"For army officers and their supporters to try to stage a coup, we regard that as entirely unacceptable," he said, brushing aside suggestions that the incident in Manila was not a coup attempt and dismissing allegations by the military rebels linking Arroyo to terrorism.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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