ANTI-COUP TASK FORCE LIBRA REACTIVATED FOR IMPEACH RALLIES

MANILA, November 5, 2003  (STAR) By Jaime Laude - As talks of massive destabilization refused to die down, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) yesterday reactivated its anti-coup Task Force Libra and placed a battalion of Army soldiers on standby for anti-civil disturbance duties.

The task force’s reactivation came immediately after the AFP declared a nationwide alert as a constitutional crisis brewed over attempts to impeach Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero, the military’s public information office chief, clarified that the red alert hoisted by the military was just part of an overall preparation to preserve order following reports that various groups will be staging massive rallies. Tension has been running high for the past week after a move by opposition lawmakers to oust Davide prompted street protests and fears of a crippling conflict among the government, legislature and judiciary. Lucero said troops composed of Army, Navy and Air Force personnel are now ready for deployment in various parts of Metro Manila.

Areas which military authorities classified as flashpoints of major disturbances are the EDSA Shrine in Mandaluyong City, the Makati commercial district, Malacañang Palace and the Batasan complex and its surrounding environs.

Maj. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, the military’s operations chief, said the troops were on standby "to provide stability" but would remain in camp in order not to raise undue alarm.

Despite the military preparations, Lucero, however, dismissed persistent reports of an impending coup d’etat.

"These coup jitters are just rumors so we don’t base our plans on rumors. This heightening of red alert is directed towards rallies ... the mass action that will be conducted relative to the impeachment against the chief justice," Lucero stressed.

Police units in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and the Southern Tagalog regions have also been placed on red alert following the wave of mass actions expected in the coming days.

"We are now on red alert but we have not received any specific threat report. We expect mass actions to happen and we are prepared for these," Director Ricardo de Leon, chief of the PNP Directorate for Police-Community Relations (DPCR) said.

Protests over the impeachment are planned this week and are expected to continue until Nov. 10, when the House of Representatives and the Senate resume session after a 12-day holiday that is also being used to seek a compromise.

De Leon said the PNP’s crowd control, dispersal and management (CDM) units are closely coordinating with the AFP.

PAs this developed, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Deputy Director General Reynaldo Velasco yesterday vowed to implement a "no permit, no rally" policy as he called for sobriety among various groups.

Velasco noted that Congress leaders, the judiciary and the executive branches of government are working for the immediate solution to the deadlock over the Davide impeachment case.

He urged the different groups who wish to express their sentiments on the issue to hold their rallies in freedom parks but said that it will be up to the local government units to specify the limits of the protest actions. He added that outside these areas, the "no permit, no rally" policy will be strictly enforced. A Proactive Move

President Arroyo reassured the people yesterday that the red alert declared by the police and the military was merely a "proactive move" of the government to safeguard public order.

In a statement, the President reiterated that the government will continue to observe a policy of maximum tolerance to all groups of mass protest actions, whether they are pro or anti-impeachment of Davide.

"There will be maximum tolerance in the face of legitimate and peaceful mass actions. We shall calmly but firmly hold the middle ground of law and order and peaceable protest," Mrs. Arroyo said. "We will protect the legitimate exercise of rights but we will intercept criminal saboteurs or agents provocateur," she added.

She, however, underscored the possibility of "opportunistic threats of destabilization" that might take advantage of such "legitimate and peaceful mass actions to push their own anti-administration agenda."

On Friday, she told division commanders to account for all troops and warned them she had "the will, the authority and the resources to quell any disorder or attempts at destabilization." But Lucero said on Monday the Army had no intention of joining either side.

"We can assure the public that no member of the armed forces will join any attempt to grab power," Lucero said.

National Security Adviser Roilo Golez told The STAR yesterday that there is no basis for the coup rumors and the red alert is just a civil disturbance management by the police.

Members of the Philippine Military Academy Class ’89, who were tagged as among those spearheading the recruitment of military and policemen to join a planned power grab, also came out the other day denying their involvement in the reported plot against the government.

For his part, political analyst Joel Rocamora said the impeachment row is providing justification for a coup attempt but the ability to mount an uprising was another story.

"We don’t have successful coup attempts in our history, only successful coup rumors, because you can get your political goals through rumors," he told Reuters.

Rocamora was, however, confident of a face-saving compromise and played down fears of an uprising because pro-Davide and anti-coup forces backed by former President Corazon Aquino and the Roman Catholic church could mobilize larger crowds than the anti-Davide forces.

The Arroyo administration peacefully put down an attempted coup by several hundred junior officers in July, but rumors of restiveness persist in the military as the country gears up for an election next May. After nine army uprisings in 17 years, the potential for a power grab cannot be discounted. But commentators see a large degree of politicking in the Davide row and the talk of instability.

"The whole affair now falls into the whirlpool of differentiation and positioning on the eve of next May’s general elections," political analyst Alex Magno wrote. — With reports from, Mike Frialde, Marichu Villanueva, Non Alquitran, Christina Mendez, Reuter


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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