MANILA, Philippines -- Thousands of Filipinos took to the streets in protest yesterday, hours after beleaguered President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a nationwide state of emergency, banned public rallies and ordered the arrest of alleged coup plotters.
Arroyo's actions were prompted by the discovery of an alleged plot by military officers to oust her on the eve of a major rally to commemorate the "people's power" protests that forced President Ferdinand E. Marcos to resign 20 years ago today.
Former President Corazon Aquino, a popular figure from the protests of 1986 and a successor to Marcos, led a march of more than 5,000 people through Manila's Makati financial district yesterday afternoon and called on Arroyo to "make the supreme sacrifice" and step down.
Aquino, who was once an ally of Arroyo, turned against her last year after revelations that the current president had sought to rig the 2004 election.
Arroyo survived impeachment in September despite the embarrassing release of a tape-recorded telephone conversation in which she appeared to direct a top election official to make sure that she won by a million votes.
Some disgruntled members of the armed forces have been plotting for months to remove Arroyo through a combination of public protest and military action.
They have proposed the creation of a council to rule the country temporarily and have pledged to restore democracy to the Philippines.
In the past two decades, protests have twice forced a president from office: Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001. Estrada was succeeded by Arroyo, his vice president. In both cases, leaders of the military played a crucial part by abandoning the sitting president and supporting a challenger.
Arroyo is doing her best to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to her.
Yesterday, armed forces chief of staff Gen. Generoso Senga announced the arrest of several officers, including Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, who was accused of planning to bring troops to a rally yesterday commemorating the anniversary of the protests that brought down Marcos. At the rally, the West Point graduate allegedly planned to declare his opposition to Arroyo in the apparent hope of triggering her ouster.
"We have reduced the threat," Senga said. "We cannot say that it has been stopped."
In the declaration, Arroyo said the coup was an alliance between "military adventurists" on the right and Communists on the left. Opposition critics said that seemed unlikely; the army and Communist rebels have been fighting each other in a low-level guerrilla war for years.
"I am declaring a state of emergency because of the clear threat to the nation," Arroyo said in a taped speech broadcast on television. "This is my warning against those who threaten the government: The whole weight of the law will fall on your treason."
Arroyo said the attempted coup had been squelched.
"There were a few who tried to break from the armed forces chain of command, to fight the civilian government and establish a regime outside the constitution," she said. "We crushed this attempt."
Arroyo's declaration could backfire by generating more public opposition at a time when her popular standing is low. Critics pointed out that the state of emergency was akin to declaring martial law, as Marcos did in a failed attempt to maintain his grip on power.
Richard C. Paddock writes for the Los Angeles Times.