MOST SENIOR CATHOLIC WARNS CHURCHES VS USING MASS FOR PROTEST

MANILA, October 29, 2005 (STAR) (AFP) The most senior Catholic in the Philippines criticised on Friday church officials for taking part in an intense campaign to force President Gloria Arroyo to resign for alleged election fraud.

Cardinal Ricardo Vidal singled out the parish priest of Saint Michael's Church, alongside the Malacañang presidential palace, which hosted a prayer service at an opposition rally on Monday calling for Arroyo's resignation.

"There has to be great respect for the masses. It should not be used just for any purpose," Vidal, the archbishop of the central city of Cebu, told reporters.

Ramos’ men soliciting international support for constitutional regime change in RP By Marichu Villanueva The Philippine Star 10/29/2005

Two Cabinet secretaries of former President Fidel Ramos are spearheading a group lobbying the US government and the international community to support a "constitutional means" to change the country’s national leadership.

At a press conference at the Manila Hotel yesterday, retired general Fortunato Abat, a former defense secretary, and former budget secretary Salvador Enriquez Jr. presented to a select group of media persons their proposed three-staged program that would lead to a transition government to replace the Arroyo administration.

Introducing their group as the Coalition for National Solidarity-Christian Nationalists Union (CNS-CNU), Abat and Enriquez denied that they are being secretly supported by Ramos.

They were joined at the press conference by lawyer Charlie Serapio, CNS-CNU secretary-general, and former representatives Gualberto Lumauig and Wilson Gamboa.

Enriquez said they have just returned from Washington where they met with US government officials and Washington-based media executives, whom he did not name but said they were connected with The Washington Post.

"They (the US officials) are very aware and curious, and they even seem to know things taking place here more than we do," he said.

"We have tried to explain to them (the US officials) the constitutional inspiration of what we want to do, and we seem to have convinced them."

They discussed the prevailing political and socio-economic situation in the Philippines under the "dysfunctional government" of Mrs. Arroyo, he added.

Enriquez conceded that "the Americans are very clever" and won’t easily be drawn into giving any outright indication on where the US government stands on the political issues affecting a sovereign country such as the Philippines.

"Many of them (in the US) see GMA is falling down and there are many people and groups here already lining up to replace her, and we want them (US) to know where we are coming from," he said.

"We are often deliberately misunderstood by certain people," he added. "We are trying to tell you that we are pushing a government for survival, that we are wishing for, praying for, and even working for (what) is essentially a transition type of government."

During the same forum, Serapio justified the need of their group to campaign for international support of their cause.

"Leadership change must have international support and (to) explain to them we do not support change in government through terrorist-like activities or else we might be considered a pariah in the international community," he said

"In our meeting with Washington Post executives, they asked us if we support military-led coups d’état and naturally, as General Abat said, we want the military to stay neutral."

Serapio bared to reporters the three-stage program that would install a transition government in a post-Arroyo scenario.

"The CNS-CNU founded its three-stage program," he said. "First is conversion, second is transition, and third is restoration of the Constitution."

Serapio said the CNS-CNU program was based on what he calls the "constitutional protectorate option" provided under the Constitution.

"This provision refers to the military as an instrument or tool of the people to enforce their rights under the Constitution," he said.

At the same press conference, Abat again denied persistent accusations that he was pushing for a military-led junta to take over the government.

"The CNS-CNU is looking towards providing an alternative to the Arroyo government, and through this dialogue with the press, we intend to present our program, the kind of structure we intend to put up," he said.

Abat said the CNS-CNU tie-up was formally forged last Sept. 30 to provide the tipping point to jumpstart the movement to oust Mrs. Arroyo.

Their group has stayed away from anti-government protest rallies and engaged in high-level activities to prepare the nation for a leadership change through constitutional means, he added.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said yesterday Ramos was the only one capable of mounting a coup against Mrs. Arroyo, similar to what he did during the EDSA I people power revolt that ousted the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

"Time has not changed former President Ramos," he told reporters during the weekly Balitaan sa Rembrandt Hotel in Quezon City.

Pimentel recalled that in 1984, he delivered a privilege speech at the defunct Batasan Pambansa warning that Ramos, not General Ver, was the man who would topple Marcos.

"He (Ramos) denied it and even got mad at me, but two years later I was vindicated," he said.

Pimentel said Ramos is acceptable to the Americans because he graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point.

During the Marcos regime, Ramos was able to consolidate his forces, and when the proper time came, he succeeded in mounting a coup against his cousin.

What is happening today is similar to the events during the last days of Marcos, Pimentel argued.

On the other hand, Malacañang yesterday called Ramos a "patriot," and reiterated he was not part of any attempt to oust Mrs. Arroyo.

In separate interviews, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said they saw no need to seek clarification from the US Embassy on a supposed report linking Ramos and former national security chief Jose Almonte to a supposed coup.

"Former President Ramos is a patriot and eminent national leader in his own right," Bunye said. "These intrigues linking him to coup plots are the work of idlers who have nothing better to do."

Bunye said the Arroyo administration maintains a "principled partnership with FVR to build the nation and win the future for Filipinos."

"Actually, nobody in the Cabinet believed this talk," he said.

Mrs. Arroyo’s reaction to the report "was one of disbelief," he added.

Bunye said he tried to reach Ramos, who is in China, to comment on the report and "to let him know how we felt, that we don’t believe this talk going around."

Many Cabinet members, including himself, Ermita, Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza and Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, have close ties with Ramos, he added.

On the other hand, Ermita said the report was not credible, and that it might have been "floated" for some reason.

"First of all, I don’t believe that President Ramos (would give) such an order" to Almonte, he said.

"It’s not in his character that he would order somebody to undertake something that would worsen our current situation."

Ermita said Almonte and Mrs. Arroyo go a long way back as Almonte was a captain in the Presidential Guards under President Diosdado Macapagal.

Almonte was one of the first supporters of Mrs. Arroyo who rushed to Malacañang during the Oakwood mutiny in 2003, he added. — With Perseus Echeminada, Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez, Jess Diaz, Delon Porcalla


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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