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Arroyo Firm as Opponents Begin Legal Challenge

Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has sent a warning to her opponents, saying she will not hesitate to use her emergency powers again to fight those trying to bring down her administration. But her critics have gone to the nation's highest court to challenge her legal powers. Last Friday, Mrs. Arroyo lifted a weeklong state of emergency she imposed to foil a coup plot.

Speaking in an interview with G.M.A. radio Mrs. Arroyo described herself as a strong believer in democracy, but said she is monitoring events and will not hesitate to do what needs to be done to uphold the law. She also warned that people who abuse their freedom, and install groups that will one day destroy freedoms, should be stopped. She singled out communists who she says conspire with the extreme right.

Mrs. Arroyo imposed a state of emergency February 24 to foil what she said was a coup plot by opposition politicians, extreme leftists and military officers. A week later, she lifted the measure, saying the immediate danger to her government had passed.

On Tuesday, her critics began a legal challenge to her powers. The Philippines Supreme Court heard oral arguments as it considers seven petitions that want the emergency decree to be declared unconstitutional. Court spokesman Ismael Khan says it will be weeks before a ruling because several legal steps follow the oral arguments.

"Each party will be given 10 days to put his arguments in writing," said Khan. "At the end of which time the court will consider the matter ready for decision. And you can expect a decision to be promulgated within one or two weeks from that time."

The emergency allowed the government to ban rallies, to arrest people without warrants and to crackdown on the media. In the wake of the measure, one leftwing legislator has been charged with rebellion and five other leftist lawmakers have taken shelter in Congress to avoid arrest.

In the Philippines Senate, two subcommittees have been formed to look into possible unconstitutional acts committed under the emergency decree. One panel will look into arrests without warrants and the cancellation of rally permits. The other will consider possible violations of freedom of speech and the press, including a police raid on a newspaper's offices.