IN THE NEWS #479 - The Philippines

By Caty Weaver

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a state of rebellion earlier this week. She took the action to halt violent demonstrations in Manila. Thousands of demonstrators tried to enter the Presidential Palace on Tuesday. They clashed with security forces surrounding the building. Four people died in the violence. One-hundred others were injured.

The demonstrators were protesting the arrest on April twenty-fifth of former Philippine President Joseph Estrada. Mr. Estrada is accused of gaining eighty million dollars illegally during his presidency. He was ousted from the office in January. Vice-president Gloria Arroyo was sworn in as president. Mr. Estrada says he is innocent of the charges against him.

His supporters say Mizz Arroyo's reaction to their protests is illegal and undemocratic. The declaration of a state of rebellion gives police wide power to arrest and hold people. It also bars groups of more than five people from gathering near the presidential palace. The state of rebellion was declared for Manila only.

Mizz Arroyo also ordered the arrests of eleven politicians. Philippine officials say the opposition politicians plotted to take over the government. Intelligence reports accuse the group of planning to kill both President Arroyo and former President Estrada. The reports say Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Gregorio Honasan and former police chief General Panfilo Lacson planned to head the new government.

Mizz Arroyo says she hopes by Monday to be able to declare the rebellion is over. Philippine citizens are to vote in congressional and local elections a week later, on May Fourteenth. It will be the first vote since Mr. Estrada was ousted. Candidates loyal to Mr. Estrada say Mizz Arroyo's recent actions were connected to the election. They say she used her power unfairly to hurt their chances in the vote.

A political expert and supporter of Mizz Arroyo says Mr. Estrada's supporters are trying to escape responsibility for the violence. He says voters will reject them for that.

Other experts say it is Mizz Arroyo's political coalition that will suffer in the elections. Public opinion experts say Mr. Estrada is very popular among the poor in the Philippines. They say many are angry about his arrest. About ninety percent of the eighty-million Filipinos are poor.

On Thursday, President Arroyo made a surprise visit to Mr. Estrada. He is being held in a jail near Manila. An adviser to the president says Mizz Arroyo only wanted to see the conditions in which Mr. Estrada was being held. Yet, the leader of Mr. Estrada's political party said the visit could mean more than that. He said it might be the beginning of a settlement between the Philippine government and Mr. Estrada.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.

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