Philippine troops loyal to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo uncovered an attempt by rogue soldiers to seize power over the weekend, a senior military official said yesterday.
Rumors of plots against Arroyo, or any other leader, are relatively routine in the Philippines, where army-backed "people power" uprisings toppled two presidents and there have been at least a dozen coup attempts since 1986.
But fresh talk of action by some elements of the military, before Christmas or early in the new year, began last week when allegations of cheating by Arroyo in the 2004 elections were resurrected in public inquiries in the two houses of Congress.
A senior general said disgruntled soldiers and police officers were plotting to take over key military bases in Manila and demand the resignation of Arroyo, who left on Sunday for a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Malaysia.
The rogue soldiers were expecting the bulk of the military to join them in withdrawing support for Arroyo and handing power to a civilian-military junta, he said, citing intelligence reports.
"We were waiting for them to strike but we're prepared to hit back harder," the general told Reuters. "We can just speculate why they did not move. Perhaps they knew we were ready."
There were rumors several officers had been arrested but they could not be confirmed. Military officials said they were keeping watch for any unauthorized troop movements or other signs of unrest.
The general said there were reports that a battalion of Marines and police commando teams were ready to seize control of an air base and the three major army bases in Manila.
Arroyo, who ended a one-day mutiny by about 300 soldiers peacefully in 2003, survived an attempt to impeach her in September over allegations of vote-rigging and corruption when her allies in the lower house voted down the motion.
Security forces around Manila were placed on full alert as Arroyo left for four days of meetings with other Southeast Asian leaders on how the region can hasten economic integration, fight terrorism and stop bird flu.
Heavily armed police commandos, backed by an armored vehicle, patrolled near the presidential palace.
"Whenever the president leaves the country, it is standing operating procedure that the Armed Forces of the Philippines declares a red alert," army spokesman Colonel Tristan Kison told reporters, dismissing rumors of a fresh coup plot.
Despite the collapse of the impeachment attempt and a lack of anger in the streets, Arroyo's government remains beset by political turmoil over the allegations of corruption and vote-rigging in the 2004 presidential election.