Hotel standoff ends: Philippines counters yet another coup attempt

A brief face-off with rebel troops at a five-star hotel in Manila prompts a weary sense of déjà vu.

A dramatic coup attempt in the Philippines Thursday ended in seven hours when elite Army forces stormed a luxury hotel in downtown Manila, capturing rebel troops who had holed up there along with some staff and journalists. Two people were injured but there were no casualties.

The coup, staged by mutinous soldiers already on trial for a similar try in 2003, is the latest attempt to dislodge Philippines president Gloria Arroyo, whom dissidents accuse of corruption.

The drama began as a number of former soldiers were being taken away from the courthouse where they had been standing trial, reports The Times (London). About two dozen soldiers took over the Peninsula Hotel in the Makati financial district of the capital.

Military police made no apparent effort to stop the plotters, and some even went with the rebels as they left the courthouse and occupied the hotel.
There the plotters, joined by others who had not been standing trial, and estimated to number anywhere between 12 and 30, forebade guests from leaving and started issuing demands for President Arroyo to resign.

The soldiers called a press conference soon after, reports Al Jazeera.

… Brigadier Danilo Lim, a former commander of the elite Scout Rangers unit, had said the group was taking control of the government.
"We make this fateful step of removing Mrs Macapagal Arroyo from the presidency and undertake the formation of a new government," he said.

Army troops and police soon had the hotel surrounded, reports Reuters.

The rebel soldiers first stopped people from leaving the hotel as a 3 p.m. deadline for them to end their mutiny passed, but later allowed people to go out.

The mutiny is being led by Senator Antonio Trillanes, Brigadier-General Danilo Lim, and former vice president Teofisto Guingona.
Trillanes, then a navy officer, was one of the leaders of the failed mutiny in 2003, when junior officers took over a luxury apartment tower not far from the Peninsula.
Some of the rebel soldiers wore red armbands with a sun logo, similar to an insignia worn during the 2003 mutiny, which ended peacefully.

Leaders of the country's political opposition, particularly President Arroyo's former vice president Teofisto Guingona, and a couple of Catholic bishops, rushed to the hotel in support, "saying that this could be another 'People Power' uprising similar to the two such events that took place in 1986 and 2001," reports The New York Times.

But the soldiers soon surrendered. Minutes before, SWAT teams swarmed the hotel, firing shots and releasing tear gas, The New York Times said.

The seven-hour standoff at the Peninsula Manila hotel in Makati City, Manila's business district, ended with the arrest of several people, including a senator, a former vice president, a Catholic bishop and several journalists.
… Lieutenant Trillanes, who led the 2003 mutiny and who successfully ran for the Senate this year even while behind bars, said he had no regrets about today's events. Brigadier General Danilo Lim, who is accused of leading a 2006 alleged coup attempt, defended the take-over of the hotel. "Dissent without action is consent," he said.

Soon after the end of the confrontation, the government announced a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew for the Manila area, reports the Associated Press. Checkpoints were set up and the military was put on alert, it reports.

"The full force of the law will be meted out without any concession. Additional charges are being prepared to hold accountable those who committed new crimes," Arroyo said.
… "For the safety of everyone, we're going out ... because we cannot live with our conscience if some of you get hurt in the crossfire," Antonio Trillanes, a leader of the dissident officers, told reporters.

Though the government had initially tried to dismiss the situation, an official later linked the coup attempt to protests to be held Friday by various antigovernment groups, reports the Philippines publication, The Inquirer.

"I'm sure they are," [Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez] told reporters in Malacañang when asked if he believes that organizers of Friday's protest led by the Kilusang Makabansang Ekonomiya (KME) were aware that Trillanes and several military officers charged for allegedly plotting against the government would walk out of the Makati City court where they are being tried.
... The protest action led by the KME will kick off with a march from the University of Sto. Tomas to Plaza Miranda in Manila.
At least three groups are also expected to link up and hold rallies at the Liwasang Bonifacio -- the Church-based group Solidarity Philippines (SP), the Inter-Faith Justice for Peace and Integrity for Creation Network (IFJPICN), and the Task Force on Urban Conscientization.
The groups are calling for Arroyo to step down.

Gonzales also said the government was on guard for a possible outpouring of sympathy from the military for Trillanes.

The Philippines has a long history of coups, as this timeline from Reuters shows. This is the fourth coup attempt since 2001, when Arroyo first came to power in a popular uprising when the Army withdrew support from then-president Joseph Estrada and supported her instead.

Thursday's coup attempt was so similar to the soldiers' previous attempts that it was like déjà vu for Manila residents, the British Broadcasting Corp. pointed out.

In most countries, the occupation of a luxury hotel in the heart of the capital by renegade soldiers would constitute an alarming national crisis.
But Thursday's events in the Philippine capital, Manila, have a weary familiarity about them.
… The so-called "Oakwood incident" of four years ago ended without bloodshed, when the mutineers were persuaded to surrender.
But previous coup attempts in the late 1980s resulted in widespread shooting and dozens of deaths.
Yet the officers who led those coups were pardoned, and in some cases went on to successful careers in politics.
There appears to be an unspoken tolerance of armed intervention by disgruntled officers claiming to act against corrupt governments.

Government officials said a curfew had been called to allow police to "hunt down armed and civilian groups" connected to the standoff, reports the online news portal of Philippines TV channel ABS-CBN. A gun ban will also take effect after the curfew, barring even licensed gun owners to carry firearms outside their homes, it said.

Dozens of journalists covering the standoff in the hotel were also rounded up, causing an outcry about media freedom, reports the Associated Press. The government said it wants to ensure that rebel troops did not escape among the journalists.

"Media organizations cried foul, saying freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed in a nation priding itself with having a lively, freewheeling media system," the AP said.

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