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Arroyo warns Estrada supporters as protests continue

Joseph Estrada
Estrada was flown by helicopter from his detention cell to get a medical check-up  

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People Power venue

"Wear blue"

Change of venue

MANILA, Philippines -- Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has warned so-called "misguided elements" that security forces are firmly behind her, as protests continued supporting her deposed predecessor Joseph Estrada.

President Arroyo spoke as Estrada underwent a medical check-up at a military hospital minutes away from police headquarters in Camp Crame where he has been detained since Wednesday on a plunder charge.

The policy and military are on high alert in case pro-Estrada demonstrators, converging at a religious shrine which saw Arroyo sworn in as the country's 14th president in January, resort to violence.

"The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police are squarely behind this administration and are prepared to meet any challenge to the Constitution," she said.

National Security Adviser Roilo Golez declined to mention how many troops are being deployed to monitor the situation, but confirmed that military contingency troops are on stand-by.

People Power venue

Golez said that from "fifty to a hundred" thousand Estrada supporters are again expected to converge at EDSA late Saturday night, but would disperse towards dawn -- a "pattern" since Estrada was arrested and jailed.

EDSA, one of Metro Manila's main avenues, was the center of the so-called people power protests in 1986 that brought down the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and those in January which forced Estrada to step down.

"The government will continue to observe maximum tolerance," as long as there is "no overt act to threaten any government establishment," Golez said.

Estrada's son, Jinggoy, has also been detained under the same plunder charge
Estrada's son, Jinggoy, has also been detained under the same plunder charge  

Golez also dismissed speculation that a silent faction in the military is ready to withdraw support for Arroyo, blaming the opposition for the "rumors."

"It's election time,"Golez explained, referring to legislative polls on May 14.

President Arroyo warned that there were elements "who dream of taking advantage of this situation to further their ambitions at the expense of the rule of law and our peoples' welfare."

"Wear blue"

Manila's influential archbishop, Jaime Cardinal Sin, was due to preside at a Saturday evening mass at Mendiola, the road that leads to the presidential palace.

Speaking in behalf of Sin, Monsignor Soc Villegas said the cardinal has called on the laity to "wear blue" on Sunday, to protest vandalism by Estrada supporters at EDSA.

Members of two religious sects, whose leaders supported Estrada's 1998 presidential campaign, have joined pro-Estrada demonstrations at EDSA.

The demonstrators are expected to increase on Monday, when the Sandiganbayan special anti-graft court is expected to decide whether Estrada should be transferred to a detention cell south of Manila.

Change of venue

Police officials cited security concerns for Estrada's anticipated transfer to a bungalow in Santa Rosa, Laguna.

But Estrada lawyer, Atty. Cleofe Verzola, said the distant location would curtail Estrada's right to avail of legal counsel.

"Estrada has the right to consult his lawyers every day, every hour," Verzola said.

Officials said Estrada would likely spend the night in the hospital but did not say when he would be transferred.

Local television footage showed a newly-built two-bedroom bungalow equipped with two television sets, air-conditioning, and a VCD player.

"We should consider that he is an ex-president and he should maintain his dignity," national police chief Leandro Mendoza said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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