Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo seems to be left face to face with a political crisis which could cost her the presidency.
Philippine troops and police went on full alert in the capital Manila on Friday, and soldiers were warned against taking sides, as political allies abandoned President Arroyo and asked her to quit over allegations of electoral fraud. A third of Arroyo’s Cabinet quit en masse today and urged the Philippine leader to step down.
Former President Corazon Aquino on Friday urged Arroyo to resign, saying the country can't afford another "people power" revolt like those that carried both of them to power.
Authorities warned against rowdy protests in an effort to pre-empt a repetition of "people power" revolts that have ousted two presidents in the last two decades. But left-wing and opposition groups ignored the warning, and gathered along Ayala Avenue, a key thoroughfare in Manila's financial district, calling for Arroyo's resignation.
"All roads lead to Ayala. We have to push this to its logical conclusion - the resignation of Arroyo," said left-wing Rep. Teodoro Casino, reports the AP.
By Friday afternoon, the crowd reached about 2,000 protesters, but several hundred more were marching from several points toward the area, according to TV reports.
Former Philippine president Fidel Ramos has proposed a shift to parliamentary government and fresh elections within 10 months as a way out of a crisis that has produced political gridlock and economic stagnation.
He told the Manila Rotary Club on Thursday that Arroyo could be a caretaker president in the interim before a general election, offering her a "graceful exit" to defuse the political turmoil.
Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes, among Cabinet members loyal to Arroyo, said police were under orders to maintain order.
Meanwhile, Arroyo has been rejecting all claims for resignation. A spokesman for Arroyo, Ricardo Saludo, said it was "not the president's position to resign" as she was not under investigation and no charges had been proved, reports Reuters.
Voicing support for Arroyo were Defence Secretary Avelino Cruz, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri and 13 other members of the cabinet.
Arroyo has been buffeted by almost daily protests since the allegations of electoral fraud surfaced last month, coupled with accusations that her family took illegal gambling payoffs. But they have not matched the huge demonstrations that toppled the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Arroyo's predecessor, Joseph Estrada, in 2001.
About a week ago Arroyo’s Cabinet shed a top official facing tax-evasion charges, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap – it proved to be a sacrifice needed to draw away attention from claims for Arroyo to resign after she admitted talking with an election official about her hopes for a million-vote margin in last year's ballot.