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US think tank doesn’t see Arroyo ouster

By Doris Dumlao, Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:03:00 02/18/2008

Filed Under: Politics, NBN deal, Military

MANILA, Philippines -- A New York-based think tank sees a slim chance that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be ousted through another ?people power? given the lack of public outrage and solid backing from the military brass even amid the ZTE-NBN scandal.

?Ordinary citizens have grown numb to the scandals and apparently grown tired of the continuous change in leaders sans accompanying change in the socioeconomic situation,? GlobalSource said in its February country report.

?Without public outrage and with a well-kept top-brass military circle remaining fiercely loyal to the President, we don?t see an impending leadership change outside of the framework set by the Constitution -- that is, elections will go through as scheduled,? said the report written by Filipino economists Romeo Bernardo and Margarita Gonzales.

GlobalSource?s report came before 10,000 people from various sectors staged a rally in Makati City on Friday, calling for Ms Arroyo?s resignation and throwing their support behind Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr., the new witness in the Senate probe of the scrapped $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with China?s ZTE Corp.

Lozada has linked the President?s husband, Jose Miguel ?Mike? Arroyo, and former Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. to kickbacks of $130 million that allegedly raised the cost of the NBN project.

Biggest protest rally

It was the biggest rally yet mounted against the President since the ZTE scandal broke out last year. Two days after the rally, a Mass attended by some 5,000 people was held at La Salle Green Hills in support of Lozada and to denounce the Arroyo administration.

Efforts to oust Ms Arroyo have received a ?fresh boost? from Lozada?s revelations, according to the National Democratic Front (NDF)-Central Visayas.

In a statement e-mailed to media organizations in Tagbilaran City in Bohol on Friday, the NDF, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, said corruption ?has reached Marcosian heights in the more than seven years that GMA (the President?s initials) and her gang of thieves have ruled the country.?

?Lozada?s confirmatory revelations regarding the ZTE-NBN scandal and attempts to silence him bared the extent of the GMA gang?s willingness for greed, duplicity and fascist abuse of state power,? said the statement signed by NDF-CV spokesperson Rio de la Montańa.

Threat of power grab

Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, skipped Saturday?s Philippine Military Academy alumni homecoming in Baguio City to monitor the security situation in Metro Manila.

He said the military would remain a ?back-up force? to the Philippine National Police, the lead agency in maintaining peace and order.

Amid the mounting calls for the President?s resignation, Esperon discounted the possibility of a power grab or moves to oust her by military rebel groups.

?I am not seeing any situation of that kind. The Armed Forces is very solid,? he told reporters on Sunday in a phone interview.

Esperon said the military should allow the rule of law to prevail. ?A power grab is not to the interest of the country,? he said.

Not letting guard down

He agreed with the journalists when it was pointed out that rebellious officers and soldiers who the military had said were planning to launch destabilization moves appeared to be quiet despite the latest corruption scandal to rock the Arroyo administration.

Still, he said, the military was ?not letting (its) guard down.?

Esperon said that even if the military had not received any report on fresh plans to overthrow the Arroyo administration, ?there could be some operations and follow up on leads.?

?But so far, there?s nothing that we could say that?s very disturbing,? he said.

The GlobalSource report said the ouster of Jose de Venecia Jr. as House Speaker was widely expected to lead to his alliance with the opposition.

The think tank said politicians eyeing the presidency would not be particularly keen on handing the top government post to Vice President Noli de Castro, a broadcaster-turned-politician, as this risks having him in power for eight years (the remaining years of Ms Arroyo plus a new six-year term after the 2010 elections).

?The political environment will thus remain choppy in the next couple of years, and the current government will likely continue to weather political storms,? it said.

While markets initially reacted negatively to the political upheavals, financial players have been learning to adapt themselves once again to the political turbulence, according to GlobalSource.

It said concerns on whether Finance Secretary Margarito Teves would stay in office were aggravating market uncertainties. With a report from Chito A. Fuentes, Inquirer Visayas

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