If he was being genuine, the general must have been the only person in Manila not imagining a coup last week—and the rumor mill had them coming from all sides. The biggest warning was that uniformed loyalists of Joseph Estrada could be planning an armed comeback for their ousted ex-Commander in Chief, who was holed up in his posh mansion in San Juan, a Manila suburb, reportedly drinking lots of expensive red wine. General Espinosa was supposedly marshalling his forces for a truly petty reason: he was one of the first generals to decide to abandon Estrada two weeks ago and throw his support behind the pro-Arroyo movement on the streets of the capital. But before he could do so—and this is admitted by Espinosa—Estrada's Chief of Staff General Angelo Reyes stole a march on him and became one of the heroes of People Power II. Yet another plot was purportedly being readied by two men who helped spark the original People Power movement: former Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Colonel Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan, both pro-Erap senators today. Arroyo's newly appointed national security chief, Lisandro Abadia, said last week the rumors had to be taken seriously. "We cannot let our guard down."
The euphoria over People Power II is fading as Filipinos recognize the hazards that accompany a constitutionally challenging change of leaders. Estrada hasn't formally resigned, although the Philippine Supreme Court backed Arroyo's ascension, and is unlikely to rule favorably on any court challenges. A more tricky issue: the 1987 constitution singles out the military as "the protector" of the people, rather than the government, and that role has never been formally challenged.
Arroyo realizes she has to accommodate her most influential People Power partners—not the eponymous people, but the cabal of generals who hoisted her to power. She moved swiftly to cement their support, shrewdly naming former President Fidel V. Ramos Special Ambassador of Goodwill, an anemic-sounding title for what could be a very powerful role. (Ramos is a former armed forces chief of staff, and during his six-year term as president there were no coup attempts.) Then, on her first day in office, Arroyo gave some of the juiciest government jobs to military men.
That move will make some generals happy and, presumably, loyal. The problem is that it makes others envious and potentially restive. And unlike the coup plotters in the 1980s, disgruntled military elements have in Estrada a ready rallying figure for an uprising. Despite his ignominius overthrow, Estrada retains considerable popular support. Senate President Aquilino Pimental says the former president can definitely cause Arroyo problems. "I will not use the word 'threat,'" he says, "but Estrada has a large following." Especially, Pimental noted, among rural lower income families and the poorest of the poor. Estrada was praying a lot last week, according to his son, and feasting on Philippine-style suckling pig, according to friends. He told a group of reporters he had no plan to go into exile. "I was born here. I live here. I will die here," he proclaimed.
Meanwhile, the masses are still puzzling out the implications of a military-heavy government. Some segments don't like it at all. "Gloria is more beholden to the military than to People Power," complains Wilson Fortaleza, president of the leftist political movement Sanlakas, which helped get people on the streets to oppose Estrada. Politicians are concerned about the military's renewed role. "One question remains to be sorted out," says Senator Rodolfo Biazon, former armed forces chief of staff. "Are we setting a standard for our military to be always a major factor in the resolution of political controversies in our country?" People Power II changed the occupant of the presidental palace—but the military may be calling the shots.
With reporting by Nelly Sindayen/Manila