Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo blamed "military adventurists" for plotting to overthrow her government last week. But who were those adventurists? What exactly were they up to? TIME got a box seat for the alleged plot: witnessing a meeting last Thursday evening at which plans were hatched for what a ringleader called a "withdrawal of support" from Arroyo, a U.S.-educated economist who was Bill Clinton's classmate at Georgetown University.
The meeting, which stretched into the early-morning hours, took place at the Makito home of Jose Cojuangco, brother of former President Corazon Aquino. While Cojuangco's daughter kept a buffet table piled high with chicken sandwiches, macaroni salad and cookies, Pastor Saycon, a businessman and longtime Arroyo critic, outlined plans for a new government. (Saycon invited TIME's Nelly Sindayen to witness the meeting.) While more than a dozen businessmen and politicians listened, Saycon phoned a person he identified as a U.S. official in Washington. "You will still be our friend, not China," Saycon assured the man. Saycon then phoned someone he identified as Brigadier General Danilo Lim. Over the speakerphone, Lim said it was "all systems go." A military contingent would march to a shrine in Manila where the 20th anniversary of the People Power revolution (which toppled Ferdinand Marcos) was to be celebrated. There, the military men would meet a group of Catholic bishops, and a Philippine marine officer would read a statement withdrawing support from the government. The bishops made one request: that the coup be bloodless.
The plot fizzled when Lim tried to enlist the support of Armed Forces Chief of Staff Generosa Senga, who instead took Lim into custody. On Friday Arroyo declared a state of emergency. Neither Saycon nor anyone else at the meeting was immediately arrested.
Arroyo's hold on power remains tenuous. The military said last week that 14 junior officers had been briefly detained for allegedly plotting a separate coup. And despite pledges of support by the armed forces, rumors of unrest are a constant source of fear for Arroyo's civilian leadership. In a TV address, she declared that "as commander in chief, I control the situation." In the hurly-burly politics of the Philippines, that remains to be seen.