ECONOMIC  MANAGERS  HELPED  DEFUSE  COUP, NOT SECURITY OFFICIALS

MANILA
, February 28, 2006, (STAR) By Paolo Romero - It’s the economy, stupid.

At the height of President Arroyo’s latest political crisis last week, it was her economic managers — not security officials — who presented a human face in Malacañang’s efforts to defuse the tension.

In fact, during Mrs. Arroyo’s first appearance before the media — albeit not at a press conference — since she declared a state of national emergency Friday last week, she talked about the rollback of fuel pump prices with two of her economic managers, Trade Secretary Peter Favila and Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla.

The economic managers, taking six-hour shifts, also manned the Situation Room at the ground floor of the Presidential Guest House 24 hours a day since Thursday night so they would be available to answer questions for the President, other Palace officials and the media, as well as to help monitor and assess the stream of information.

"The basic issue of the whole thing, at least for the administration, is the economy. The body politic is actually the biggest stakeholder in the country’s economy," Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, one of Mrs. Arroyo’s close advisers said. "I think it is the economy that saved her."

Salceda, a noted economist and chairman of the House committee on appropriations, said the administration is not losing sight of the country’s economic future even when fighting off coup attempts.

"I think the administration is determined to fight off the downward force of political instability on the economy. It wants to show that we’re still connecting," he said.

In signing Proclamation 1017, the President said the series of actions designed to topple the government "are hurting the Philippine State — by obstructing governance, including hindering the growth of the economy and sabotaging the people’s confidence in government and their faith in the future of this country."

"These actions are adversely affecting the economy," she said.

With the exception of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, none of the so-called "hawks" in the Cabinet were present at the press conference at the Palace where Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye announced that authorities have thwarted a coup attempt. Whether this was intentional or not, Bunye did not say.

The succeeding media briefings were held by Michael Defensor, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr., Socio-economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, Favila and Lotilla.

Foreign analysts said the administration may have learned a lesson from the bloody December 1989 coup attempt, where, from a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over six percent, the country’s growth plunged to three percent the following quarter.

"It brings to mind what (former chairman of the United States Federal Reserve) Alan Greenspan said during the first Gulf War in 1991 — that he knew that the US already won, not by watching CNN but by looking at the oil prices," the analyst said.

Andaya and Neri said economic managers received daily input from Mrs. Arroyo, who was giving instructions, asking questions and feeding information — showing her true concern at the height of the latest crisis.

"Paramount in her mind was to insulate the economy from all these political upheavals," Andaya said.

Favila said the country’s economic managers were also busy allaying fears of various business sectors and industries on the proclamation — especially when Gonzalez announced that there could be basis for a possible takeover of vital utilities.

Teves denies quitting The Philippine Star 02/28/2006

Rumors that Finance Secretary Margarito Teves had resigned prompted President Arroyo to belie the rumors herself.

Teves said he received a call from the President and at least 10 text messages on Sunday asking if the rumors were true and his standard reply was "not true."

He said Mrs. Arroyo would be the first to know if he were being asked to leave his post.

"We serve at her pleasure, remember?" he explained.

Teves stressed that the President’s Cabinet remained intact and members of the economic team were one in saying that they still had lots of work to do for the country.

The President appeared with Teves in a televised roundtable discussion yesterday along with Trade Secretary Peter Favila and Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz Jr.

Teves said he was not part of the emergency meeting at 2 a.m. on Friday when the Cabinet’s security and political clusters, along with some members of the economic team, decided to issue Proclamation 1017, declaring a state of emergency due to destabilization attempts against the government.

He said he received the text message about the meeting only when he woke up at around 7 a.m.

According to Teves, there was no misunderstanding among Cabinet members about the proclamation. For the economy to continue growing, he said security and political stability must be ensured.

He disclosed however that Favila and Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya had recommended lifting the state of emergency declaration before the standoff at the Philippine Marines’ headquarters Sunday night as the crisis appeared to be concentrated only in Metro Manila. — Aurea Calica

Text messages mobilize crowds, spread rumors in RP By Cecille Suerte Felipe The Philippine Star 02/28/2006

They come in droves, sometimes two or three at a time. Their origin often unknown, they spread like a plague, and can be just as lethal in a fragile democracy like the Philippines.

Mobile phone text messages helped mobilize hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in 2001 to a massive street protest that swept out former President Joseph Estrada on corruption allegations, replacing him with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Five years later, text messaging again is proving an indispensable political tool for disseminating news — and wild rumors — while mobilizing supporters.

But this time, Mrs. Arroyo is the target, especially after she declared a state of emergency last Friday to quell a coup plot against her.

Thousands of opposition protesters responded to the declaration by marching along Manila’s main thoroughfare as word of the crackdown spread like brush fire, thumbs furiously forwarding messages as fast as they were received.

Two days later, after news that the head of the marines was relieved of his duties, it took less than an hour for his supporters — alerted by text messages, of course — to gather outside the marine headquarters, sparking a five-hour standoff that ended peacefully, but not without its tense moments.

In a country with more mobile phones than fixed telephone lines, texting is cheap and fast, and it is often difficult to pinpoint the source — a key selling point in the murky world of political dirty tricks.

"Marines taking vote whether to withdraw support at navy golf course," read one.

"Finance Secretary Teves resigned," read another.

Neither turned out to be true. Neither did the claim that reinforcements for the disaffected marines were on the way like a cavalry.

But it didn’t matter to whomever originated the false reports, because they clearly wanted to capitalize on an emotionally charged moment, hoping to attract the critical mass of demonstrators to spawn another "people power" revolt.

Malacañang claimed that San Juan Mayor JV Ejercito, Estrada’s son, was cranking out a deliberate campaign of disinformation. Ejercito denied it. — AP


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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