The Specter of Martial Law

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MANILA: Filipinos by the tens of thousands took to the streets Tuesday to protest a plan by President Fidel Ramos to allow police to conduct wiretaps, examine bank accounts and arrest suspects without warrants. Ramos says the measures are necessary because Filipino and Middle Eastern extremists have been using the Philippines as a base for terrorist operations that have included plots to kill Pope John Paul II and blow up American airliners over the Pacific. His opponents see the moves as a cover for a return to authoritarian rule. "I do not think that this crackdown, if it should come to pass, will last long," says TIME's William Dowell. "Ramos is a reasonably popular leader who would like to stay in power, and if he came down too hard on the people he would not last long. But Ramos understands that the Philippines is a very volatile country, and he probably believes that he needs to impose martial law to show that he is in control. Also, it must be kept in mind that order is sometimes more highly valued than civil rights and democracy in some Asian countries."