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Arroyo Keeps Philippines Crackdown in Place

DON GONYEA, host:

The Philippines President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is continuing her efforts to clamp down on the opposition two days after she declared a state of emergency.

Several vocal critics of the government have been detained. Police also raided the offices of a pro-opposition newspaper. All this came the week the Philippino were remembering what many considered their finest moment: the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos 20 years ago.

NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Manila.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN reporting:

Twenty years to the day after Marcos fled, several hundred people celebrated the event at a simple mass held at the People Power Memorial along Edza(ph) Boulevard in Metro Manila.

Among those in attendance was the People Power icon and former President Corazon Aquino, who, the day before, had led a large demonstration in downtown Manila.

Friday's demonstrations were part protest, part remembrance, and at times turned violent, with riot police using night sticks and water canons to disperse the crowds.

But not before Mrs. Aquino, a one time Arroyo supporter-turned-critic, delivered a message for the President.

Ms. Corazon AQUINO (Former President): Mrs. President, I ask you to make the supreme sacrifice of resigning.

SULLIVAN: Only a few hours earlier, President Arroyo had gone on national television to announce the state of emergency.

(Soundbite of TV announcement)

SULLIVAN: President Arroyo said that coup had been averted, but vowed to punish those still at large for their treason against the nation. Supporters of the beleaguered and unpopular president insist the measures taken so far are necessary. Her opponents say she is acting a lot like the former dictator, Marcos.

Mr. GUILLERMO LUZ (Executive Director Macadi(ph) Business Club): They have completely betrayed the values and the principals that we fought for 20 years ago.

SULLIVAN: Guillermo Luz is the Executive Director of the influential Macadi Business Club. For several years, the club had been firmly behind President Arroyo. A few months ago, it withdrew that support amid persistent and persuasive allegations of vote rigging and corruption against her. Guillermo Luz remembers how Arroyo came to power in 2001, after another People Power revolution helped bring down the corrupt former actor, Joseph Estrada.

Mr. LUZ: This is the ultimate irony, is that this government was brought to power through People Power five years ago, through People Power Two, and now is afraid of its own people. It's crunching people, used water cannons to disperse rallies, arrested academics and columnists. What's going on here?

SULLIVAN: President Arroyo says she will finish her six-year term despite her dwindling support, and even some of her detractors say another People Power Revolution is not the answer to the country's political instability.

Twenty years on, many believe People Power has not delivered on its promises of reform and social justice, and fewer people seem willing to go to the streets to effect change.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Manila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.