MANILA,  October 28, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva - Short of saying that her administration is immune to fresh coup attempts, President Arroyo expressed confidence yesterday that the officers and men of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are loyal to the chain of command.

"I donít know how I shall put it. I can say that no coup attempt will succeed. The AFP is an effective institution," the President said.

She issued the statement to Palace reporters after a hastily organized presentation to the media of the most wanted criminal in the Philippine National Police (PNP)ís order of battle.

The declaration was timely as the military declared Tuesday a full alert amid rumors of another round of power grab plots in the aftermath of the corruption scandal that rocked the military.

The President also reiterated that the capture of crime suspect Ricardo Peralta highlights that the peace and order situation in the country has been very good. "So Iíve been really leaving the security concerns to our uniformed service," she said.

Presidential Security Group (PSG) commander Col. Delfin Bangit told The STAR yesterday that they are on red alert status and currently maintain tight inspection checks in all entry and exit points leading to MalacaŮang although there was no visible need for extra security measures.

Speaking over the government-run Radyo ng Bayan, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye downplayed the red alert raised by the AFP on Tuesday as a normal precautionary measure "against projected threats by enemies of the state."

Bunye cited the directives supposedly issued by Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) chairman Jose Ma. Sison to sow trouble as the instigating factor in raising the level of alert.

"Weíre going about our normal activities. Of course, the AFP has raised the alert level but itís because of the statement of Sison," he said.

This was backed up by outgoing AFP chief Gen. Narciso Abaya who explained that the red alert is in response to Sisonís calls to the New Peopleís Army (NPA) "to exploit the present situation besieging the military establishment by way of increasing tactical offensives against government and civilian targets."

Abaya belittled reports of a destabilization move saying that some groups might have the intention to do it but donít really have the capability to mount a coup.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero also said late Tuesday the military declared the nationwide heightened alert because of possible communist rebel attacks.

NPA spokesman Gregorio Rosal, however, said that the AFPís red alert declaration was only meant to confine all troops to barracks. In a radio interview on dzBB, he claimed that the order from Sison to intensify attacks against government targets was issued several months ago.

No loyalty checks

Bunye dismissed yesterday speculations that Mrs. Arroyo has been quietly undertaking "loyalty" checks among the field commanders and other junior officers of the AFP.

"As you know, the President is the commander-in-chief of the AFP and it is her prerogative to talk to or visit her troops," Bunye pointed out. "So we donít see anything irregular or extraordinary in the meetings."

He added that the Presidentís meeting with her security advisers was previously scheduled two days ago and they had merely reviewed the Philippine governmentís contingency plans for about 4,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Iraq in view of the continued rise in violence in the war-torn country.

Mrs. Arroyo left MalacaŮang late yesterday afternoon to proceed with her previously scheduled visit to Dumaguete City.

Cabinet Officer for Provincial Events Conrado Limcaoco said this was the best indication that nothing worries her about rumors of coup threats.

Bunye also sought to dismiss the claims of pro-administration Sen. Rodolfo Biazon that three retired generals are hatching plots to overthrow the government and are just waiting for the right situation.

"We donít know what the reasons of Senator Biazon are for making this statement but we stand firm in the belief that the members of the AFP are loyal to the chain of command," Bunye said.

Biazon, a former military chief of staff, said military adventurism has not yet waned despite the defeat of coup plots over the years.

Last year, the Arroyo administration suppressed a daylong mutiny by junior officers complaining of corruption and favoritism in the higher ranks.

"I am not being an alarmist," Biazon said, "I am raising this issue to forewarn people, especially the military."

The AFP hierarchy has denied the alleged coup.

In Northern Luzon, Lt. Col. Preme Monta, information officer of the militaryís Northern Luzon Command, said that their commander, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dominguez has assumed full control over his field units and has guaranteed no soldier within their area of responsibility would join military uprisings over corruption scandals in the armed forces.

"We are assuring the public that the military, especially here in the Northern Luzon Command, will respect the democratic system in investigating the allegations being leveled against former AFP comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia. We are not like communist rebels who believe in the swift justice system. We will wait for the rule of law to prevail," Monta told The STAR.

"I am not going to contest that (AFPís denial of the coup) if they say that there is none. They have the authority. I am glad that the military is confident that they can check this. That is good for the country. But there are signs," Biazon said.

 ĎDoomed to failí

Sen. Joker Arroyo, however, is confident that the alleged destabilization move that Biazon has been warning government officials about is doomed to fail.

"All these talks about coup díetat will not prosper because the historical background is quite simple. For a coup díetat to succeed, it must have at least two elements. First, it must have popular support and any move now of the AFP to go against the government will not and do not have the popular support. Second, there should be a groundswell of support from the officersí corps," Arroyo said.

He added that what the AFP should do instead is to unite themselves.

For his part, Sen. Panfilo Lacson believes that the main ingredients for a coup are already existing and ripe for another adventurist plot and the government has to address the problem of corruption not only in the military but in the entire bureaucracy.

"The issues are there. The issues are very valid... but as to whether someone will initiate it, that I do not know," he said.

Lacson expressed optimism that new AFP chief of staff Efren Abu will effectively implement reforms when he takes over Friday.

"I hope there will be changes. A lot depends on the commander. He (Abu) is a professional officer," he said. ó With reports from Jaime Laude, James Mananghaya, Pia Lee-Brago, Jose Rodel Clapano

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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