Planes Reportedly On Standby To Evacuate Philippine Leader To U.S.

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

( - Reports from the Philippines Friday evening say aircraft have been placed on standby to fly President Joseph Estrada out of the country - possibly to the United States - after his political allies and military chiefs abandoned him and public pressure mounted on him to quit.

One report says Philippine Airlines has been asked to place two Airbus-340s on standby to fly the disgraced movie star turned politician and his family to California.

Another said an air force base had been placed on alert, all civilian staff sent home and troops deployed while several helicopters had been placed on standby alert.

The Philippine Star on its Internet website cited unconfirmed reports that the helicopters were ready to fly Estrada to another air force base where a U.S. Air Force plane was waiting to fly him to the U.S.

More than a hundred thousand Filipinos have been demonstrating in Manila, demanding that Estrada resign. During a turbulent day Friday, several government ministers resigned and military heads withdrew their support for the president.

Some of the defectors, including chief of staff General Angelo Reyes and Defense Minister Orlando Mercado, made a public appearance at the protest site, near a shrine built to commemorate the 1986 overthrow of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

A regional governor, Joey Lina, told Philippine television that negotiations were underway between Estrada and opposition figures to secure his peaceful departure from office.

Lina said the resignation could come within hours, and asked Filipinos to pray for a quick resolution. One report said the opposition figures had given the president an early Saturday morning deadline to resign.

Earlier, coup rumors circulated when four armed personnel carriers were seen rolling into the grounds of the presidential palace. It was initially unclear whether they had been sent to protect Estrada, or by those wishing to oust him.

But they were subsequently deployed outside the gates, and local reports quoted military officials as saying they were sent to protect the palace.

Estrada has been under fire since corruption allegations surfaced last October. Among other offenses, he was accused of receiving large bribes from illegal gambling operations.

An impeachment trial was held but fell apart earlier this week when the prosecution effectively threw in the towel, deepening the political crisis.

Estrada has rejected calls to resign, but Friday called on Congress to call a snap presidential election, and said he would not stand for re-election.

Philippine newspapers have compared the public demonstrations to the larger "people power" uprising against Marcos in 1986.

Marcos had been accused of beating rival Corazon Aquino in an election only through massive fraud. Filipinos took to the streets and the army was split between supporters of Marcos and those backing Aquino.

The standoff ended when Marcos fled the country at the urging of Washington. He went into exile in Hawaii, where he died in September 1989.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow