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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 31, 2003

Maturing Philippines stifles coup attempt

Last Sunday's frustrated coup attempt in Manila was symptomatic of a number of things that continue to be wrong in the oft-hapless Philippines. But it may also hint at some things that are beginning to go right.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is right that nipping this putsch in the bud was "a triumph for democracy." But now she must find out what prompted the rebellion, and what that says about how democracy is working — and failing to work — in her country.

The 296 mutinous soldiers, including 70 officers, had seized a Manila shopping complex for 19 hours before giving up without a shot. But Arroyo's government was looking for more implicated soldiers.

More important was the question of what political powers, if any, may have been behind the coup. Sen. Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan, a former officer with an amazing background of coup plotting, had gone missing at last report. His "recovery" program was advocated in statements by the rebels.

An even more intriguing question is whether the coup, if successful, intended to restore ousted (and thoroughly disgraced) former President Joseph Estrada to power. Estrada is now standing a seemingly endless corruption trial.

The rebels spoke out against corruption in the military, a theme that resonates strongly with the Filipino population. The rebels accused the military's intelligence chief of failing to prevent — if not actually staging — a fatal bombing in Davao City.

But the single most important feature about this latest coup attempt is that it failed to attract any popular support at all. Arroyo herself came to power on the strength of tens of thousands protesting Estrada's corruption.

The coup leaders are right that government corruption continues, poverty deepens and Arroyo may be preparing to renege on her promise not to run again.

But Filipinos are getting more sophisticated about responding to demogogues, and more hopeful that power changes can occur lawfully and in their best interest.