FVR warns Estrada vs martial rule

- By Rudy Santos () - October 15, 2000 - 12:00am
Former President Fidel Ramos has expressed alarm over rumors that President Estrada plans to impose a state of emergency or martial law to quell growing public unrest over the raging jueteng payoff scandal.

Ramos warned Malacañang that such plans would meet stiff opposition as well as harm the economy.

"Such plans to declare a state of emergency will not have any support but will face only extreme opposition from the people. Any move to drastically resolve the issue through a power grab or violent means will only deepen and prolong our people’s difficulty," he said.

Ramos called for public vigilance to guard and preserve the democratic gains of the February 1986 people power revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship. Ramos was a key figure in that four-day revolt.

"Our people must not allow our hard-won gains of the past 14 years to be lost. Our people must now allow our country to slide back to square one," he said.

Ramos hoped that the jueteng corruption scandal would be resolved peacefully – not in civil unrest reminiscent of the Marcos years.

Last Friday, Mr. Estrada accused former government officials allied with Ramos of spreading rumors that he plans to declare a state of emergency.

"Our innocent people should not ride on or believe those taking advantage, and first of them were the opposition who were greedy for power," Mr. Estrada told a television interview.

In a late night press conference also last Friday, Mr. Estrada again denied the bribery allegations against him and accused the political opposition of trying to oust him.

"My message to the people is to stay calm because the people who want to destroy us have long planned to give disinformation and create destabilization," he said.

Mr. Estrada was flanked by Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado and Armed Forces chief Gen. Angelo Reyes, who both dismissed persistent rumors of martial law.

"There will be no declaration of martial law or state of emergency. We have come here tonight to calm your nerves," Mercado told the news conference held at Malacañang just before midnight Friday.

"Everything is normal, there is no need to panic and there is no need to overreact," Reyes said. "All this talk about emergency rule, coup d’etat is nothing but just talk and I think the sooner we stop talking about these things, it is better for everybody."

Reyes said the military was a "constitutionally oriented institution, we are guided by the Constitution, we stay out of partisan politics and we’ll do just that."

"And anybody who goes against the Constitution will have to reckon with the Armed Forces," Reyes said.

Press Secretary Ricardo Puno Jr. said the decision to present Mercado and Reyes was made to counter a growing impression that Mr. Estrada would resort to extra-constitutional means to cling on to power.

"Can you imagine what that would cause overnight?" he asked. "There is no way that you can leave this thing hanging for an entire evening."

Malacañang called up the news desks of various media organizations to douse the rumors.

Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo told a television interview last Friday that she was "confident the Armed Forces will adhere to the Constitution."

"It is important we are vigilant and we protect the Constitution. We should be vigilant against anybody who goes against the Constitution," she said.

Security in all major police camps all over Luzon was tightened Friday night, with policemen in full battle gear guarding the entrances, following rumors of a coup by disgruntled policemen and soldiers.

A former military rebel group, the Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa (RAM), renewed yesterday its call for Mr. Estrada’s resignation.

"While we are batting for a non-violent, non-traumatic transition in the government, our group cannot just let our people’s rights be trampled and let them suffer under the present leadership," said RAM spokesman Proceso Maligalig, a Navy captain. The group met yesterday at their office in Makati City to discuss their next move.

The RAM was responsible for a series of failed coup attempts against Ramos’ predecessor, Corazon Aquino, in the late 1980s.

Ramos, titular head of the opposition party Lakas-NUCD, criticized Malacañang for blaming him for the scandal, saying it "has become the standard operating procedure of the government."

"But they cannot ignore the feelings of the people on the issues raised here. The administration had better wake up to reality," he said. "That has been their usual line for the past two and a half years. When something wrong happens with the government, whenever a major political or economic problem arises, it is the previous administration that is blamed."

Ramos urged his successor to get serious with his job so he can deliver results.

"I hope they use their talents, their energy and their little remaining time to really examine themselves and determine what they did wrong. And immediately, without further delay, put in the solutions as the administration must have done two and a half years ago, so they can regain much of the credibility that they have already lost," he said.

Observing the crisis, a former member of Mr. Estrada’s Cabinet said it won’t matter even if Mr. Estrada escapes impeachment, now looming over the horizon.

"This battle is being won or lost in millions of homes throughout the country. The legal outcomes are almost irrelevant," said Jerry Barican, a former Estrada spokesman. With reports from Marichu Villanueva, Jaime Laude, AFP, AP

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