Philippine President Gloria Arroyo agreed Thursday to allow two former prominent military officers wanted for a failed power grab to campaign freely in Senate elections in a surprise move aimed at easing tensions.
Arroyo approved an opposition request that Senator Gregorio Honasan and former national police chief Panfilo Lacson be allowed to rejoin the hustings without fear of arrest.
The two close allies of jailed ex-president Joseph Estrada dropped out of the campaign trail and went into hiding after police ordered their arrest on allegations they helped organize a bloody siege of the presidential palace on May 1 by the deposed leader’s supporters.
“Your request is approved,” Arroyo snapped when opposition coalition official Agapito Aquino sought her approval to allow the two candidates to campaign for senate seats in Monday’s polls.
Aquino’s request came at a special meeting of the government, opposition and military aimed at easing tensions ahead of the Congress and local government elections.
Aquino said he expected Honasan and Lacson — the two major stars in the senatorial lineup of Estrada’s Force of the Masses Coalition — to attend the opposition’s final campaign rally in the capital on Friday.
Lacson, the former national police chief under Estrada, welcomed Arroyo’s move and pledged he would “never be a party to any effort to topple this administration.”
“This gesture by the president is an indication that she is really sincere in her effort to extend the hand of reconciliation to the opposition,” Lacson said.
But Honasan, an ex-army colonel amnestied for several bloody coup attempts in the ’80s and Lacson’s classmate at the elite Philippine Military Academy, sought a written document ordering law enforcers to stop hunting them.
He said there seemed to be “elements of the police and military” bent on arresting them.
The government claims the May 1 siege of the palace was part of a larger plot by the opposition to topple the three-month-old Arroyo administration and install a civilian-military junta.
Four people were killed and more than 100 injured as troops and police dispersed the mob.
A police intelligence report released Wednesday blamed a group of ethnic Filipino-Chinese businessmen for bankrolling the alleged coup attempt against Arroyo, who was installed in January after a popular uprising against Estrada.
But Filipino-Chinese community leader Teresita Ang See Thursday said those named in the report had denied any role in the plot.
Edgardo Aglipay, the national police deputy chief for operations, told Thursday’s meeting they expect election related violence to increase in the run-up to voting.
At least 50 people have been killed and 69 others wounded in pre-election violence, police said.
Reports Thursday also said police had uncovered a plot by unnamed people to disrupt the elections through attacks on state facilities and blame it on the government.
Dubbed “Oplan Noel,” or”Operation Plan No Elections,” the plot would involve attacks on the international airport, light rail transit, an oil depot, ports and the burning of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) office.
But Honasan said: “These reports have no basis. I guarantee our public, our countrymen that we will not participate, we will not plan bombings and any violent acts to disrupt the elections.”