(UPDATE 10) Police ready to storm Makati hotel

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Arnold Tarrobago

Nov 29, 2007, 3:30:18 AM11/29/07

(UPDATE 10) Police ready to storm Makati hotel

Last updated 04:11pm (Mla time) 11/29/2007
MANILA, Philippines -- A rapid-reaction team of about 50 officers, wearing gas masks and bullet proof vests, was ready at any time to storm a luxury hotel where rebel soldiers were holed up, according to Police Director Geary Barias of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO).
"We are ready to go at any time," Barias told reporters outside the hotel, where at least two armored personnel carriers had taken up position.
This developed after police failed to serve the arrest warrant against Trillanes issued by Judge Oscar Pimentel of the Makati regional trial court.
Pimentel has found Trillanes guilty of contempt of court.
Trillanes said he would stay at the Manila Peninsula for “as long as necessary” after claiming that “nothing will happen” after the 3 p.m. deadline for their departure lapsed.
“What we did was not only our duty but our moral obligation,” said Trillanes said in justifying his latest act of defiance, adding,“It is our duty as religious individuals to do what is right.”
“Dumaan tayo sa tamang pamamaraan [We passed through the right processes]. Elected pero wala ring nangyari [We were elected but nothing happens]. They voted for me so that I can speak up for their rights and our advocacies,” said Trillanes, referring to his election as senator last May.
He has been barred from participating in the Senate sessions because of the criminal cases that had been filed against him.
Earlier in the day, Barias left the Manila Peninsula without talking to Trillanes despite setting the 3 p.m. deadline.
A rebel soldier in uniform said Barias was “causing too much trouble.”
Barias had ordered all guests to vacate the premises supposedly pending the results of negotiations between the government and Trillanes.
“I am asking all guests of the hotel to leave so that we can do our jobs,” Barias said in a live interview earlier in the day.
Barias issued the order as Trillanes and his comrades faced arrest after laying siege on the hotel.
But Barias said they would try to negotiate with the Trillanes camp.
Mariano Garchitorena, head of the Public Relations office of the Manila Peninsula, described the situation at the hotel as “calm” and said that if the order of the authorities was to vacate, they would follow it “like good citizens.”
Garchitorena said they had around 400 guests but that he didn't know how many had left before the pro-Trillanes forces blocked the exits.
Trillanes and other officers accused of leading the July 2003 rebellion walked out of their trial Thursday and marched through the streets of Makati calling for the ouster of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
As of posting time, Trillanes and his comrades are at the Manila Peninsula where they are scheduled to hold a press conference.
The soldiers, numbering around 30, were accompanied by armed guards as they broke down a door of the hotel, overwhelmed security guards and read out a statement against Arroyo with a full list of their demands.
Heavily-armed government troops quickly surrounded the hotel in Manila's Makati financial district -- the same location of a failed 2003 coup against Arroyo allegedly led by many of the same soldiers.
The renegades urged Arroyo to resign and called on the military, a central power in this vast Southeast Asian island nation with the power to make and break its leaders, to turn against her.
People were going in and out of the Peninsula Hotel freely but a guest said he had been stopped by men with machine guns from going up to the second floor, where Brigadier General Danilo Lim, a co-accused, and others were said to be planning their next move.
The surprise events appeared to have been well orchestrated.
A detailed website immediately appeared on the Internet, announcing Lim and Trillanes as the leaders of the uprising. The site called on the Filipino people to mass in the financial district.
All the soldiers were sporting red armbands with what appeared to be the letter "I" emblazoned in the middle of a white sun.
The walkout began shortly after the trial resumed after a brief recess. Lim, who himself is detained and facing coup d’etat charges following an alleged failed coup attempt in February 2006, was pulled away by several soldiers from the witness stand.
Trillanes and Lim said they were calling on the Filipinos to withdraw support from the government because the President has corrupted its institutions.
“We are joining the people… because the President continues to violate the Constitution of the Philippines repeatedly,” Lim told DZMM’s Teleradyo program, adding they were “calling for the removal of an illegitimate President.”
Trillanes, Lim and the other accused soldiers were joined by civilians, including a group of militant farmers and opposition figures led by former vice president Teofisto Guingona.
It was not clear if the prisoners’ guards had joined the protest, but they marched along with the accused.
Reports culled by INQUIRER.net reporters and staff said police have barricaded the streets leading to Ayala Avenue and that two military trucks had crossed Paseo de Roxas.
Four Army trucks and anti-riot police have barricaded the hotel, according to reports.
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño said Trillanes and Lim spoke rightly.
“This government does not deserve the support of the armed forces and the people. We express solidarity with their cause and likewise call on President Arroyo to heed the people's clamor,” he said.
Leah Navarro, a convenor of the civil society group, Black and White Movement, said she was shocked when radio reports said that her group was part of the protest march although she added that they would assess the situation.
“I am shocked. I have nothing to do with it. In fact I am in Southwoods, Alabang in a golf tournament playing golf since 8 a.m. and which will be finished at 3 p.m.,” Navarro told INQUIRER.net in a phone interview.
But Navarro also said that former social welfare secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman will be going to Makati “to see what’s going on.”
“We have to assess the situation. Our main concern is that those marching are safe. We don’t want violence here. We know that this thing is spontaneous,” Navarro said.
There have been at least seven coup attempts in the Philippines since 1986 as the armed forces have maintained a central role in the nation's political life since the ouster of dictator Ferdinand Marcos that year.
But Arroyo has been under particular pressure since a tape recording emerged of her allegedly conniving with an election commission official to help orchestrate her 2004 re-election.
She admitted it was a mistake to have called the official while the vote count had not yet been finished, but denied any wrongdoing.
Since then she has fought off impeachment attempts -- while being regularly accused of having improperly won the election -- as well as actual and alleged coups.
Thursday's dramatic events came just a month after Arroyo gave her predecessor and nemesis, popular ex-film star Joseph Estrada, a presidential pardon on charges of corruption.
The government said the pardon was granted after the 70-year-old Estrada agreed not to pursue any elective office.
He has always insisted his 2001 ouster from the presidential palace was a coup organized by the military, the powerful Catholic Church and the country's political elites.
With reports from Julie M. Aurelio, Inquirer; Maila Ager, Jessie Delima, Cathy Miranda, Veronica Uy, INQUIRER.net; Agence France-Presse; Reuters; Originally posted at 11:16am

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