MANILA, February 29, 2004
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - Amid persistent rumors of a possible coup by disgruntled soldiers, President Arroyo reassured the nation yesterday that the May elections will push through as she warned that any attempt to grab power would fail.

"There is no stopping the polls and let us all make it a big rally for Philippine democracy," Mrs. Arroyo said in a statement issued by Malacañang.

She rejected charges made by the political opposition that her administration was actually spreading the rumors and has plans to sabotage the upcoming elections to keep herself in power.

"We have amply shown that attempts to grab power will not and never will succeed under this administration," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"The purveyors of destabilization should instead devote their energies to ensuring honest, orderly and peaceful elections," she said.

In a radio interview, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the opposition’s accusations "have no basis" and the Palace has "nothing to gain" by spreading such rumors.

"The President is committed to the stability of our government, our country and she is also committed in the holding of elections," he said.

Reacting to the persistent rumors, some lawmakers reminded the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) that it is their job to uphold the law and not participate in politics.

Coup rumors only hurt the country’s economic recovery efforts, Davao Oriental Rep. Mayo Almario, Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay and Bacolod City Rep. Monico Puentevella said in a joint statement.

"We urge everyone to be nationalistic and not be selfish. We urge members of the AFP and the PNP to defend the government and uphold the Constitution. The opposition should refrain from masterminding or supporting any attempt to subvert the government through illegal means," said Pichay, chairman of the House committee on national defense.

Coup rumors have been swirling ever since the government put down a mutiny in July last year by over 300 officers and enlisted men who complained of corruption in the military and poor conditions.

Government and security officials claim the mutineers planned to take over the government and establish a junta.

The mutineers took over a ritzy condominium in Makati City’s business district for 19 hours before surrendering peacefully following negotiations.

They accused the military leadership of selling weapons from the government arsenal to rebel groups, including the notorious Abu Sayyaf Islamic kidnap gang, which is allied with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda worldwide terrorist network.

They also claimed that then defense secretary Angelo Reyes and then military intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus had masterminded bombings in Mindanao in a bid to frame the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as a terrorist group.

They also alleged that top military officials were planning bombings in Manila in a bid to extend Mrs. Arroyo’s stay in power through martial law.

Reyes and Corpus denied the allegations but later resigned to spare Mrs. Arroyo from criticism.

Pledging to carry out reforms in the military, Mrs. Arroyo formed a commission headed by retired Supreme Court justice Florentino Feliciano to look into the mutineers’ complaints.

The commission recommended reforms in the military’s procurement system to minimize graft, more housing for soldiers, better benefits, among others.

Last January, five army captains — their identities hidden behind a Philippine flag — were arrested after demanding the resignation of Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita for alleged corruption.

They were charged with disrespect for the flag and are being investigated for inciting to sedition.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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