President Corazon Aquino's government is making contingency plans for the possibility of a gulf war that some observers have suggested are really preparations for martial law.
While Aquino denies any intention to declare martial law, military officials and Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos are making uncharacteristic statements that "civil disorder" and coup attempts from right- and left-wing rebels can be expected if there is a gulf war.For the past year, Ramos has insisted that military rebels are incapable of another coup attempt. But he made a 180-degree shift last week when he announced that a new and strong coup attempt is possible.
Aquino has asked the Philippines' Congress to grant her emergency powers to control the distribution of food and fuel, to suspend the right to strike among laborers engaged in production of basic goods and services and to take over public utilities and essential businesses.
The emergency powers, similar to those she was granted after the December 1989 coup attempt, would also give her the right to repudiate portions of the Philippines' $26 billion foreign debt.
She also has requested a $333 million standby fund to be used for "urgent national necessities."
But Aquino is encountering strong opposition from some members of Congress, who say she is being "alarmist."
Last week she received recommendations of emergency measures from six special Cabinet committees. Among those recommendations are unspecified "sanctions" against "press abuses," controls on the right to demonstrate, imposition of a curfew and authority for wiretaps on alleged price control violators and hoarders of essential goods.
Critics say these controls have nothing to do with a war thousands of miles away but sound more like martial law on personal liberties.
Also last week, government officials presented a "worst-case war scenario" in which oil imports would be reduced by 50 percent and food supplies would be cut by 20 percent.
Manila newspapers have warned owners of private cars to register their vehicles with their local officials or risk being unable to obtain gasoline if rationing is implemented.
Businesses are preparing for the worst. Staff at the government-owned Manila Hotel were told last week to prepare for martial law. Hotel management told employees that there would be a drastic reduction in staff, some of the hotel's restaurants would close and whole floors of hotel rooms may be closed.
The contingency plan also calls for the closing of shopping malls, supermarkets and cinemas one day a week.
Philippine Daily Globe columnist Hector Villanueva accused the government of "sowing panic where there is none" and said the request for emergency powers is Aquino's "admission of the inability to govern within a democratic framework."
One analyst suggested that Aquino is "opening the door to canceling the May 1992 presidential election by planting unnecessary seeds of alarm in the minds of her people and making herself the only solution to the country's problems."