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Philippine Emergency Over, but Problems Remain for Arroyo


The Philippine government ended the week-old state of emergency Friday, saying the threat of a coup had passed. But the disputes that led to the crisis remain, and analysts say it is unlikely President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's government can expect smooth sailing in the months to come.

The Philippine Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Tuesday over whether President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's declaration of a state of emergency was constitutional.

Mrs. Arroyo originally issued the controversial decree because, she said, of a planned attempt by rogue military officers and political opponents to overthrow her government.

She cancelled the emergency on Friday, saying she had been assured by her security advisers that the threat of a coup was over. But her opponents had already filed a challenge to the decree with the Supreme Court.

Political analyst Prospero De Vero says political tension in the country is likely to continue unless the Court clearly defines the extent of the president's powers.

"If the Supreme Court definitely says that this is unconstitutional, then you will see a lowering of the level of tension," he said. "Because then Congress would be able to determine the limits of what it can do, and the president can do the same, but we don't have that situation now."

Critics say Mrs. Arroyo used the state of emergency as a way of going after her political opponents -- rebellion charges have been filed against more than 70 people, including six members of congress and several military officers -- and to silence the media, which have often been critical of her.

A central element in the criticism is the question of Mrs. Arroyo's legitimacy in office. She first became president in 2001 when, in a constitutionally questionable move, her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, was driven from office by mass demonstrations.

She won election on her own in 2004, but was caught on tape talking to an election official during the vote count. After that, she narrowly survived an impeachment on charges of fraud and corruption.

De Vero says that even though Mr. Arroyo has dealt her opponents a blow, the question of her legitimacy in office will keep the political situation unstable.

"Until the legitimacy question hounding the president is resolved I don't think this [tension] will go down," he added. "I think it can only escalate. Because even the allies of the president in the Senate are very angry at what is happening."

Another lingering problem pointed out by analysts is poor morale and lack of discipline in the armed forces. Many coup attempts and coup plots have occurred in the 20 years since the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was driven from power by mass demonstrations, backed by the military. Members of the military have been involved in all of them.

The opposition has already signaled that political unrest is not over, vowing to resume demonstrations against Mrs. Arroyo now that the emergency decree has been lifted. Protests were banned while the emergency was in force.

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