Veronica Pedrosa: State of rebellion declared in Manila
Veronica Pedrosa is the anchor of CNN THIS MORNING broadcast live every weekday from Hong Kong.
Q: What precipitated the protests in Manila and what are the protestors demanding?
Pedrosa: The protests were precipitated by the arrest of the former Philippine president and former movie star, Joseph Estrada. Wednesday he was arrested on the capital offense of plunder. The authorities charged him with pocketing millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks during his 31 months in office. The sight of Mr. Estrada having mug shots taken and fingerprinted really triggered mass protests in the streets. Actually they've been going on all week now, but this is the first time that they've turned really violent and protestors have avowed to take over the presidential palace. The protestors don't seem to be politically motivated. I don't think that realistically they expect to reinstate Estrada into office, but there is an underlying anger at the way President Arroyo has handled President Estrada's case, given his immense popularity.
Q: The government has declared a state of rebellion within Manila. What does this mean?
Pedrosa: In effect, it is a kind of low-level state of emergency from what I gather. It gives the authority, the power to call on the military to help quell what the government deems to be rebels and to arrest and charge without a warrant suspects with the crime of rebellion. Authorities have been somewhat unclear about this. What Mrs. Arroyo has said on local media interviews is that there will be no curfew across the city tonight but that there will certainly be checkpoints and perhaps body searches.
Q: How serious a threat are these demonstrations to President Arroyo's government?
Pedrosa: If you listen to President Arroyo, who has gone on something of a media blitz this evening, her government is not under threat at all. She reiterated time and time again that she is totally in control of the situation and that, indeed, she has complete confidence in the military. Now this is significant because the military has played a key role in previous popular uprisings in 1986 and indeed the one that propelled her into power. And there were reports that there were two coup attempts during Mrs. Arroyo's hundred days in office. However, there are critics through Estrada who are questioning this new state of rebellion because they feel that this might lead the way to perhaps martial law and to restrictions of freedoms of assembly, freedoms of press or of speech.
Q: What kind of trial does former president Estrada and his son face and what is the potential sentence they could receive?
Pedrosa: This is the main point of the Estrada camp and of President Estrada himself when he gave interviews from his cell when he was first arrested. He believes he cannot have a fair trial in this country given the authority's opposition to him. The potential sentence is actually death for the charge of economic plunder which he faces, but it is unlikely that it would actually be carried out to its full force given Mrs. Arroyo's devout Catholicism. He won't be presented in court until June 27. That's been delayed. That was going to happen this Thursday, but they have put it off now.
He's being held in a special detention center about 60 kilometers or 40 miles south of Manila. He was transferred early this morning because authorities said they feared for his security in the camp in central Manila outside of which his supporters are gathered.
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