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Head of Philippine marines relieved of duty

A marine colonel urged Filipinos on Sunday to protest the removal of the marines commander in the wake of a failed coup plot that prompted the government to declare a state of emergency.
A riot police officer tries to disperse protesters Friday during an anti-government rally in Quezon city, northeast of Manila.Bullit Marquez / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A marine colonel urged Filipinos on Sunday to protest the removal of the marines commander in the wake of a failed coup plot that prompted the government to declare a state of emergency.

Several leftist protest leaders rushed to the marine camp in suburban Manila in response to Col. Ariel Querubin’s appeal. Three armored personnel carriers, a tank and some 300 marines also arrived, but it was unclear where their loyalties lay.

It was a sign that efforts to oust President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo were alive two days after she imposed a state of emergency, saying a coup plot had been quashed but “treasonous” elements remained dedicated to forcing her out.

Lt. Col. Tristan Kison, a military spokesman, said Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda had asked to be relieved of his duties for personal reasons and insisted he was not involved in the plot to oust Arroyo.

But Querubin — named by the military as a key figure in failed plans by marine officers and to withdraw support for Arroyo on Friday — urged people to gather at the marine camp in support of Miranda.

“I’m going to join him at the headquarters and then we’ll ... wait for all the people to really come here and protect us,” Querubin said.

Querubin said the marines and other forces had planned to walk out of the camp Friday and withdraw support from Arroyo. He claimed a majority of the marine force was ready to go when they found the camp sealed in a security clampdown.

“The junior officers are really raring, they’re so agitated, so I told them to avoid clashes and shooting, let us just march,” he said.

'No reason to panic'

Inside the marines camp, another marine colonel, accompanied by a dozen armed men, approached TV crews, saying: “We want to express our disappointment over the relief of our commandant.”

A higher officer ordered him: “Get inside, don’t talk to them (the media) they’re not the chain of command.”

“I’m just showing my disappointment sir,” the colonel said.

Brig. Gen. Nelson Aliaga, who took over as marines commander, insisted the situation was an internal matter unrelated to politics.

Kison dismissed reports of unauthorized troop movements and disgruntled troops.

“Let us remain calm, there is no reason to panic,” he said.

Arroyo set off an uproar with her emergency decree Friday as Filipinos celebrated the 20th anniversary of dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ ouster in a “people power” revolt, and even some supporters questioned the move.

The decree bans rallies, allows arrests without warrants, permits the president to call in the military to intervene and lets her take over facilities — including media outlets — that may affect national security.

Local and international journalists expressed alarm over a police raid of a small daily newspaper critical Arroyo.

Police seized editorial materials from the offices of The Daily Tribune early Saturday and threatened to take over the paper. Police were posted at the Tribune door.

National police chief Arturo Lomibao said he would recommend that police be allowed to supervise the Tribune and threatened to take steps against the paper if it contributes “to the atmosphere of uncertainty, the atmosphere of instability.”

'We fear a wave of arrests'
Troops have been deployed outside two of the country’s largest TV networks, ABS-CBN and GMA7, purportedly to protect them from possible attacks by coup plotters. A prominent political columnist was arrested at an anti-Arroyo protest, and some journalists have complained that they are being stalked by government intelligence agents.

Reporters Without Borders criticized the raid and accused Arroyo of declaring the state of emergency to crack down on her political opponents.

“We fear a wave of arrests and more closures of newspapers critical of the government,” the Paris-based group said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines called on journalists worldwide to support the Philippine media “in this dark hour” by sending protest messages to the government and its embassies.

Philippine editors and columnists met Sunday and planned to issue an editorial condemning the raid on the Tribune as an assault on press freedom.

“The taking over of media publications is sending a chilling effect to media men,” said Isagani Yambot, publisher of the widely circulated Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The Tribune produced an issue Sunday featuring a strongly worded editorial vowing to continue to criticize Arroyo. “We will not be cowed,” the editorial said.