Manila – It was a call to arms that fizzled out even before it could take off the ground. But even in a country long used to coup rumours and destabilisation plots, a former defence secretary’s call for a "revolutionary transition government" caused enough concern for the military to go on high alert over a possible coup attempt against President Gloria Arroyo.
Mr Fortunato Abat, an ex-general who served as former president Fidel Ramos’ defence secretary, sent political temperatures rising on the eve of May Day when he called a press conference to announce the launch of the Coalition for National Salvation.
Accompanied by a handful of retired generals, the 80-year-old Abat said a change in government was needed to "reform the system of governance and restore morality in political leadership and in the culture of the Filipino people". "This is now the time to take a peaceful yet bold step, to change and regenerate our decayed society and energise our hopeless and desperate people," he said.
Initial reports said the group had the support of Mr Ramos himself. But the ex-president was quick to disassociate himself from the coalition, urging the public not to listen to the “noise” generated by the hao siao (fake) group.
However, just four hours after the press conference, the coalition started to crack, with Mr Abat walking out of the gathering because he disagreed with calls from its other members to join a planned mammoth Labour Day Rally.
The Arroyo government described the Abat group as a “nuisance”. "We are dealing with nuisances but there are no serious or immediate threats to national security and stability of the government," Ms Arroyo said.
The Armed Forces is considering whether to charge Mr Abat with sedition.
May Day passed relatively peacefully in Manila even though some 10,000 trade unionists took to the streets to mark the occasion. But thousands of military and police forces in Metro Manila were placed on full alert. Outside Malacañang Palace, container trucks and phalanxes of riot police blocked the surrounding streets, while the President’s military security roamed the otherwise deserted streets in their combat fatigue uniforms.
Mr Abat's coalition is the latest in a number of groups that, over the years, have made noises about replacing the Arroyo administration. However, except for theMakati uprising by the Magdalo group of junior army officers in 2003, none had directly challenged the administration.
* Anti-Arroyo allies split as leader walks out (Inquirer News Service, May 1)
* FVR calls for unity amid coup rumors (The Philippine Star, May 1)
* Labour Day protest peaceful (The ManilaTimes, May 2)