[PHOTO AT LEFT - PROTEST: Anti-Arroyo personalities (front row, from left) former communications undersecretary Josefina Lichauco, former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, an former agrarian reform secretary Horacio Morales hold a press conference at the EDSA People Power Monument in Quezon City yesterday to announce plans for a massive anti-government protest on the 20th anniversary of the first people power revolt on Feb. 25. - Photo By James Mananghaya]

MANILA, February 17, 2006, (STAR) By James Mananghaya And Evelyn Macairan - Various coalitions of groups demanding the ouster and resignation of President Arroyo vowed yesterday to stage a massive street protest in time for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the EDSA revolt that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

In a press conference at the People Power Monument in Quezon City, key leaders of various militant and sectoral groups under the banner of the Bukluran Para sa Katotohanan said they intend to launch massive campaigns beginning on Feb. 22 at what they called a "People Power Camp."

Renato Reyes, secretary general of the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said Mass will be celebrated in memory of the victims of human rights abuses during martial law — victims whom he said were still being denied justice two decades after the ouster of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

For these protesters, the 20th anniversary of EDSA I will begin with some 50,000 staging a massive protest march from the People Power Monument to the Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila.

Former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, a staunch critic of the Arroyo administration, told reporters that their cause is the search for truth from a presidency whose legitimacy remains in question.

"During the first people power, there were civilian and military components at the front lines," Guingona said. "In EDSA II, we saw a withdrawal of support by the military from the Estrada administration. Now, if there will indeed be withdrawal of support, that is constitutional. Watch and wait."

Guingona said the Bukluran Para sa Katotohanan is hoping to muster enough support to stage the massive protest because their cause is the search for truth and justice.

Dennis Maga, spokesman for the Gloria Step Down Movement, said people power is probably Mrs. Arroyo’s biggest nightmare.

Maga also assailed the President for giving scant attention to the 20th anniversary of the 1986 popular revolt, saying Mrs. Arroyo does not want to celebrate this day because she does not want the public to use people power to remove her from office.

Meanwhile, Sorsogon Rep. Jose Solis, chairman of the House committee on national defense, said that the coup threats against the Arroyo administration are serious and the events that took place during the first people power revolt 20 years ago might happen again this year.

Solis, a guest in the Kapihan sa Max’s media forum, said the coup threats against the President are serious because the Magdalo soldiers, who laid siege to the posh Oakwood Premier Ayala Center in Makati City’s central business district in July 2003, have many civilian supporters.

Solis said he based his assessment on the current situation from his years of serving the military. He is a retired colonel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Politics has infiltrated the military and this has become a problem, he added: "The military has been politicized and the issues are developed, (have) snowballed. The coup is imminent. The threats are serious as far as the government is concerned."

He said tighter security must be put in place during the commemoration of EDSA I from Feb. 22 to 26 because activists might take the opportunity to rebel against the government during the five-day celebration.

Solis also said the government should not fully rely on the intelligence unit of the AFP, because the small budget allocated for intelligence-gathering prevents military intelligence units from acquiring state-of-the-art equipment. So limited is the AFP’s intelligence budget, he added, that intelligence personnel even have to use their personal cellular phones on the job.

"For me, the intelligence may not be effective in monitoring." In fact, when officials would inquire about the security of the country, the usual reply is "normal" or "everything is under control," he said.

He recalled that military officials gave the same response that "everything is under control" several weeks before the 1986 revolution and before the seven or eight failed coup d’état attempts during the term of former President Corazon Aquino.

Even AFP spokesman Col. Tristan Kison admitted in a recent interview that military adventurism was still alive today. He said clandestine recruitment to destabilize the Arroyo administration was still taking place in the military.

"The reasons are still present," Kison said in an earlier interview. "The sentiments (of disgruntled military personnel) will not end. The problems encountered by (former President) Fidel Valdez Ramos when he was still a lieutenant in the AFP still exist now that he is an ex-president. These problems cannot be immediately resolved because we are lacking in resources and lacking in system for change. In fact, there are even instances when there is resistance to change."

The Arroyo administration is aware of the coup threats and has beefed up its security around Malacañang. Tanks and several soldiers reportedly arrived to guard the Palace perimeter early Wednesday morning.

Mrs. Arroyo has faced relentless criticism from several militant and political opposition groups over the controversies that have hounded her administration. They have held several protest actions and continue to demand her resignation.

Solis said: "Now the civilian population is very angry. They have demonstrations and uprisings. It would be dangerous if the military would join them."

The Arroyo presidency was rocked by several controversies last year including recordings of alleged conversations between her and former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and the alleged involvement of members of the First Family in the juetengate scandal, among other anomalies.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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