ILOILO CITY, April 1, 2004
By Nikko Dizon and Christina Mendez — Opposition leaders said yesterday the government’s claim to have foiled a major terrorist plot could be part of a "sinister ploy" to allow President Arroyo to declare emergency rule and scrap the May 10 elections.

This developed as authorities announced the arrest of two more alleged members of an Abu Sayyaf terror cell in Manila during follow-up operations yesterday.

The President ordered stepped-up security following the arrests but its timing, with less than two months before presidential elections, has been viewed with suspicion by her electoral rivals.

Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen, senatorial candidate of opposition presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), said the latest development in the country’s fight against terrorism could actually be part of a plan to scrap the elections to keep Mrs. Arroyo in power.

The government "could sow fear among the public by coming out with more of these alleged terrorist plots with only less than 40 days to go before the May 10 elections to later justify its move to possibly resort to draconian measures," Dilangalen said.

The Mindanao lawmaker also claimed the elite anti-terrorism task force headed by Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita could actually be a group tasked to come up with manufactured intelligence reports.

KNP spokesman Miguel Romero, on the other hand, believed that Malacañang’s claims of having foiled a terrorist attack could be a smokescreen for the defections of Mrs. Arroyo’s allies to the opposition camp.

"The KNP is against terrorism and the Abu Sayyaf and we are all for a preventive situation but the government has to make sure that the suspects they caught are honest-to-goodness terrorists," Romero said.

Another KNP senatorial bet, Juan Ponce Enrile, warned Mrs. Arroyo against taking a pro-US stance, which he said could compromise the country’s security and open it up to retaliatory attacks from terrorist groups.

Lito Banayo, spokesman for independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson, said it would be "very irresponsible" if government was found to be staging a terror alert to benefit Mrs. Arroyo’s campaign. "We don’t want to judge her, because as yet it is very speculative," Banayo said, but warned the Arroyo camp that "fiddling with terrorist activities" would scare the public and could backfire.

Ermita, however, dismissed the allegations, saying the arrest of Abu Sayyaf bandits is part of the intensified campaign against terrorism by the government.

"They are entitled to their opinions. But the fact remains that we are only doing our jobs," Ermita said. "There are arrests, there are explosives recovered, testimonies and revelations they made and they were pointed to by very credible witnesses. How can anyone contest that?" Two More

Police said two more of the alleged members of Abu Sayyaf who were planning to carry out massive bombings in Metro Manila have been arrested.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Intelligence Group director Chief Superintendent Ismael Rafanan identified the arrested suspects as Walter Villanueva alias Abdul Jamin, and Marvin Reuca alias Jamil. Rafanan said a small quantity of TNT explosives and handguns were seized from the two suspects as police intelligence operatives swooped down on their alleged safehouse in Fairview, Quezon City.

The arrest came a day after Mrs. Arroyo announced the arrest of four bandits who were planning to carry out a "Madrid-level" attack in Metro Manila, similar to the March 11 bombings in Madrid which killed nearly 200 people.

Authorities said all the six suspects were trained with Southeast Asia’s Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

Both Washington and Manila have linked the Abu Sayyaf to the al-Qaeda network of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. The group has carried out bombings and kidnappings targeting foreigners. — With reports from Jaime Laude, Marvin Sy, Non Alquitran, Jose Aravilla, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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