A Time For Prayer

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Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo sees the hand of God everywhere. At a Manila antidrug rally one Saturday in July, a downpour was drenching the speakers on an outdoor stage. But when Arroyo stood to give her speech, the rain suddenly stopped—a shift in weather that she believes was a sign from God. A few days earlier, a typhoon forced her to cancel a return helicopter trip from a nearby province to Manila. She found the resulting car journey through small villages so enjoyable that the typhoon, too, was deemed heaven sent. Throughout her days, she prays silently, seeking God's guidance. "God wanted me to be President at this very complex moment in our country's history," she declares.

Arroyo needs all the divine intervention she can get. Two and a half years after being catapulted into office via a People Power revolt on the avenues of Manila, the diminutive former economist faces her own insurrection on the capital's streets: over the weekend, a band of rogue soldiers abandoned their posts and marched to Manila's financial district, where they set explosives, seized a service apartment complex and forced the evacuation of at least one five-star hotel. It wasn't exactly a coup attempt—the soldiers said they were teed off at corruption in the military and also charged elements of the military with providing weapons and explosives to terrorists—but for the stability-challenged Philippines, that was hardly reassuring. Attempted coups were the bane of the Philippine leader Arroyo most resembles: Corazon Aquino, the ex-housewife who toppled late strongman Ferdinand Marcos in the original People Power revolution of 1986. Aquino survived seven such putschs. This is Arroyo's first brush with an unruly barracks.

The relentless Philippine rumor mill had been working overtime all last week churning out allegations that a coup was imminent. Arroyo herself on Wednesday dined at the palace with openly disgruntled mid-level officers. Later she visited a military training camp. The troops, apparently, were never mollified. On Friday, a small group of younger officers at navy headquarters on Roxas Boulevard went AWOL, taking their men and their weapons with them. (The government says there were no more than a dozen officers, with perhaps 50 enlisted men following them.) Arroyo was alerted on Friday afternoon. "Should we make the mutiny public?" she asked her assembled Cabinet. "The general feeling was to let the public know at once so that whatever plans the coup plotters had would be nipped in the bud," relates one Cabinet minister. Arroyo decided to employ Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila and hero of the original People Power revolt, who released a pastoral letter on Saturday saying that a coup was in the works and that the citizenry should rally around Arroyo. Early Sunday morning, the band of soldiers marched into Makati and started laying explosives around a central parking lot. They later took over the The Oakwood Premiere, an upscale service apartment building (and home to the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, Ruth Pearce, who was evacuated Sunday). In a televised statement, the group demanded that Arroyo's government step down, but went on to gripe about low pay and corruption among senior officers.

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