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Philippines Crisis Sparks Calls for Reform - 2003-07-28


Life in Manila is returning to normal a day after a failed effort to steal control of the military from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The power grab echoes past military coups and highlights the lack of progress in military reform.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared victory in her annual State of the Nation address for resolving Sunday's mutiny crisis. A defiant Ms. Arroyo won a standing ovation from the Philippine Congress after her speech on Monday.

While political and business analysts praise the quick resolution of the mutiny, they say the crisis points out how badly the country needs reforms.

Risk consultant Bruce Gale of Hill and Associates in Singapore said, "It's something of a wake up call for the administration that they have to do something about the low pay, the corruption, the favoritism just about everyone recognizes does exist."

Mr. Gales said there is a chance President Arroyo could turn the mutiny to her advantage if she is able to fix military corruption, which she vowed to do in her speech.

But many doubt Ms. Arroyo will order big changes within the forces. Ms. Arroyo had the military's backing when she clenched her claim on leadership in a popular uprising two years ago against then-president Joseph Estrada.

Mr. Gale said the fact that the mutineers surrendered within hours limited damage to Ms. Arroyo's administration. But he said Ms. Arroyo runs the risk of becoming a "lame duck president" if she is not able to convince the public that fellow politicians and former president Estrada were involved in planning the mutiny.

Echoing last year's State of the Nation address, Ms. Arroyo again pledged to address corruption, terrorism and drugs. But this time she appealed to the people for help. "By now we should be at peace, safe in our homes and secure in the communities, but we remain at war. At war against terrorism, with against corruption, rebels and drugs. We have to decide once for all if we want peace or war," she said.

The Philippines has a long history of military uprisings and some analysts say this mutiny signals an end to 14 years of relative peace between the military and the government.

When the military turned on former president Estrada in 2001, it was seen by many as an exception, an act of solidarity with the people power movement rather than rebellion.

One academic says Sunday's mutiny in no way compares to the scale of past coup attempts, but is sure to unnerve Ms. Arroyo's administration.

Professor Mely Anthony of Singapore's Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies recounts past power grabs. He said, "You had Marcos and when Marcos was thrown out it was because of 'people power one' that involved at that time the secretary of defense and that was in '86. From '86 to '92 that was the time when President Aquino took power. Basically it was the same people who were involved the reform movement within the military. But Aquino in fact was able to serve her six-year term of office," he explained.

Police on Monday arrested Ramon Cardenas, a former aide to Mr. Estrada. Roilo Golez, the National Security Advisor, said the soldiers staged the mutiny attempt from the Cardenas' house.

Mr. Estrada, who is on trial for corruption, still insists that he is the legitimate leader of the country.

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