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Philippine Government to Decide Saturday Whether to Lift Emergency Rule

  • Nancy-Amelia Collins

The Philippine government will make an assessment Saturday on whether to continue the emergency rule declared by President Gloria Arroyo. Meanwhile, a crackdown on government opponents continues. Nearly 70 people have now been charged with rebellion.

The Philippine government says it will "assess" the security situation in the country on Saturday, to decide whether or not to lift the state of emergency declared by President Gloria Arroyo last week.

The statement came after the Supreme Court said it would rule next week on the legality of the decree.

Since Friday, nearly 70 people have been charged with rebellion, including congressman, and military and police officers.

The Senate has condemned the decree. Senate President Franklin Drillon says people's rights are being illegally suppressed.

"They have without any regard for the freedoms of the people, have tried to suppress freedom of expression, freedom of speech. Even in martial law, our civil rights, the bill of rights, are still in full effect," he says.

The president says she acted to quash a coup plot being hatched by a group of disgruntled soldiers, and opponents from the left and right of the political spectrum.

Mrs. Arroyo's government has interpreted the emergency as giving her powers to make arrests without warrants, and to take over facilities - including news organizations - if they are deemed a threat to national security.

Ironically, she issued the emergency decree as the country was commemorating the 20th anniversary of the "People Power" revolution that ousted the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who had ruled the country under martial law for 14 years.

Nevertheless, the chief presidential legal counsel, Eduardo Nachura, says the government is ready to defend Mrs. Arroyo's emergency decree.

He says the arrests without warrants that have taken place in recent days are legal and based on existing rules of the court.

Senator Mariam Defensor-Santiago argues that Mrs. Arroyo is going beyond the powers that a state of national emergency gives her.

"It has a chilling effect but during national emergency, the president or any other official has no power to limit the right of free expression, free speech, and free press," she says.

Just after the emergency decree was issued, police swooped on an opposition newspaper, confiscating documents, and threatening the publisher with possible rebellion charges.

The government says it will issue "guidelines" for the media to follow, and warned journalists not to report anything that might threaten national security.

The military has meanwhile sent 1,200 extra troops to a military base where on Sunday, there was a standoff between the government and around 200 marines. The marines were angry over the removal of their commander, who had been implicated in a coup plot.

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