Manila - Fresh rumours of a military coup in the Philippines - which a presidential spokesman had dismissed as "coffeeshop talk" - were accompanied by two interesting twists this week. On Dec 14, Marine Captain Nicanor Faeldon, an officer who took part in an abortive mutiny in 2003, escaped from his security escorts after attending a hearing at a regional trial court. Less than 24 hours later, police arrested former defence secretary Fortunato Abat after he declared that he was president of a new revolutionary government.
According to Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Faeldon met with Abat after his escape. Mr Ermita said on Dec 14 that the meeting could be part of a "confluence of events" that were aimed at bringing down the administration of President Gloria Arroyo.
In a separate statement, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the government was convinced that "shadowy groups" were behind the flight of Faeldon, one of 31 junior officers facing trial for taking over the Oakwood Premier apartment-hotels on July 27, 2003.
However, Mr Ermita said the Faeldon escape would not influence members of the military and the police to turn against the government.
On Dec 12, an unnamed senior general told Reuters that troops loyal to President Arroyo had uncovered an alleged plot by rogue soldiers to seize power last weekend.
The general said disgruntled soldiers and police officers were plotting to take over key military bases in Manila and demand the resignation of the President, who left the country on Dec 11 to attend the Asean Summit in Malaysia.
The rogue soldiers were expecting the bulk of the military to join them in withdrawing support from Mrs Arroyo and handing power to a civilian-military junta, the general said, citing intelligence reports.
"We were waiting for them to strike but we're prepared to hit back harder," he told Reuters. "We can just speculate why they did not move. Perhaps they knew we were ready."
Mr Bunye had earlier described the coup rumours as "coffeeshop talk". "I can assure you we will have a peaceful Christmas and beyond. All these are coffeeshop talk," he said in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 13.
So, will there be "a coup, mutiny, putsch or whatever?" asked The Philippine Star's columnist Max V Soliven.
"Usually, such things don't happen before Christmas. Everybody's probably too busy going to one of the current endless rounds of Christmas parties … But hey the leaders of the Oakwood mutiny had sneaked into the Oakwood 'hotels' in July 2003 - lethal equipment and all - by checking in as hotel guests, right under the noses of a full military and police alert, and surfaced just when the PNP (Philippine National Police) and armed forces generals thought the coup 'threat' was over.
"Nothing can be discounted in this merry, slaphappy nation of ours. That's part of the fun," he added.
* Now more coup rumours are being triggered by the 'great escape' (The Philippine Star, Dec 15)
* Faeldon met Abat after escape (Inquirer News Services, Dec 15)
* PNP dismisses coup rumours as 'all noise' (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Dec 13)
* Philippine Presidential spokesperson dismisses coup plot (Bernama, Dec 13)