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Tufts E-News: New Site Design TrialTufts Expert Calls For American Intervention To Avoid Martial Law, Crisis In Country. Manila.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.19.01] Just weeks after Filipino President Joseph Estrada avoided impeachment, fears of a coup are building to new heights in the beleaguered country. The unfolding events of the last few days may be the first crisis for President-elect George Bush's foreign policy team, says a Tufts expert on the region.

"Democracy's survival in the Philippines is at issue," Tufts' W. Scott Thompson writes in the Los Angeles Times today. "An illegitimate martial law, to be proclaimed on the basis of chaos in the streets is imminent."

The chaos, writes Thompson, is a product of widespread corruption by Estrada's administration.

"The whole country has watched the incontrovertible evidence of corruption and an orgiastic presidential lifestyle. Stock market manipulation, gambling payoffs, obstruction of justice and bribes... are in plain view."

Two weeks ago, Estrada's impeachment trial ended with an acquittal -- evidence, says Thompson, of further corruption and payoffs.

"The payoffs were presumptively enormous (and admitted as such by presidential friends)," Thompson writes. "On the Senate floor, 11 voted to prevent the opening of Estrada's bank accounts, which would have revealed so vast a treasure trove of dirty money that none could have voted for acquittal."

Thompson says the United States can prevent a full-scale crisis in the country if it takes immediate action.

"Colin Powell, as the new Secretary of State, must send an envoy to tell Estrada in no uncertain terms that there is no threat to democracy, save from Estrada's own misrule," Thompson says. "And if the Philippines want to be in our good graces, there had better be no martial law and no aborting of the constitutional process."

And the expert on Southeast Asia says the Philippines' leaders will listen.

"For better or worse, an American mantra still exists in Manila," writes Thompson, who directs the Southeast Asia studies program at Tufts' Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. "A powerful Filipino senator said privately last week, for example, that what the military does would depend on 'what America says.'"

Ultimately, Estrada may be forced to resign, Thompson writes. "It is not too late to clean up his mess and return the Philippines to the path of democratic reform and economic progress."

The country's future would then fall into the hands of vice president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Arroyo, said Thompson last month, may be the best hope for the country.

"As the country moves to oust Estrada, it does so knowing that a more than able vice president stands ready," he wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed. "This one is stiff, smart and tough. She has a crispness, a decisiveness, an ease with herself that gives substance to her habit of command."

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