PRESIDENT ARROYO FACES ROUGH ROAD TO 2004 ELECTIONS

MANILA, September 3, 2003  (STAR) President Arroyo faces a rough road to next year’s presidential elections, with political rivals seeking to stir up further upheaval to prevent her from retaining her post, a key adviser said yesterday.

Despite winning higher public approval ratings for the swift and bloodless end of a July 27 military mutiny, Mrs. Arroyo has seen the local currency and stock prices decline over political uncertainty.

Former military intelligence chief Victor Corpus, credited with exposing the rebellion by more than 200 junior officers, said Mrs. Arroyo’s political allies have not given up hope of stirring up the military to launch another coup attempt.

Mrs. Arroyo made a renewed appeal to "lend greater momentum to the speedy return of confidence in our political and economic stability.

"Enough of destabilization and strife. The energies of the nation must be refocused on the fundamental challenges of poverty, crime and terrorism," she added.

Corpus told a Foreign Correspondents Association forum yesterday: "I believe that the destabilization efforts will continue up to election time. They will prevent the administration from gaining legitimacy through election."

He added: "We can’t expect the economy to improve immediately after the damage caused by the recent destabilization moves."

Retired brigadier general Corpus quit his post three days after the rebellion to calm what he described a still restive military. He now works under Mrs. Arroyo’s chief of staff Rigoberto Tiglao.

Last week, Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, who the military rebels had accused of corruption, also resigned while warning of a continuing conspiracy.

The Senate is investigating opposition allegations that the President’s husband Jose Miguel Arroyo was laundering election campaign contributions for his wife.

"They (political conspirators) will do everything to stop elections from happening, and they can do this by destabilizing the government and making the armed forces officer corps lose their faith in government or democratic institutions so that a military takeover will occur," Corpus said.

Mrs. Arroyo was elected vice president in 1998 but became president following a military-backed popular revolt that ousted the elected leader Joseph Estrada, who has been detained and put on trial for corruption.

Mrs. Arroyo is now widely expected to seek a full six-year term during the May 10, 2004 vote despite earlier pledges that she would retire after completing the remainder of Estrada’s term.

The government has asked state prosecutors to charge Estrada’s wife, two children, and a mistress for allegedly providing logistics support to the military rebels. Arroyo aides have also accused opposition Sen. Gregorio Honasan of masterminding the rebellion.

Corpus said the authorities only had "circumstantial evidence" against other suspected civilian backers of the mutiny and declined to identify them.

While the conspirators "would have a hard time" convincing the military to mount another attempt on the government, he said these forces were expected to "continue the political pressure so that the loyalty of the members of the armed forces will be shaken."

One fallout of the mutiny was that the 33 year-old communist insurgency was now "gaining ground," Corpus said.

He said he believes Mrs. Arroyo is "the best leader that we have now to steer the country for the next few years." — AFP


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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