(AFP) – Nov 28, 2007
MANILA (AFP) — Rebel Philippine soldiers stormed a luxury Manila hotel on Thursday and called on the military to immediately withdraw support for embattled President Gloria Arroyo, witnesses said.
The soldiers, numbering around 30, were accompanied by armed guards as they broke down a door of the Peninsula Hotel, overwhelmed security guards and read out a statement against Arroyo with a full list of their demands.
Government forces quickly surrounded the hotel in Manila's Makati financial district -- the same location of a failed 2003 coup allegedly led by many of the same rebel soldiers who seized the Peninsula.
The renegades urged Arroyo to resign and called on the military, a crucial force in this vast Southeast Asian island nation with the power to make and break its leaders, to turn against her.
"We are joining our people in calling for a change in leadership," said Army Brigadier-General Danilo Lim, according to AFP reporters inside the hotel.
"We call on the military to withdraw support for Mrs Arroyo in order to end her unconstitutional and illegal occupation of the presidency," he said.
The surprise events appeared to have been well orchestrated, and witnesses said police did not try to stop the soldiers from taking over the hotel.
A detailed website immediately appeared on the Internet, announcing Lim and Senator Antonio Trillanes as the rebel leaders and calling on the Filipino people to unite against Arroyo.
"As soldiers, we do not seek political power for ourselves," Lim says in a declaration on the Internet site, www.sundalo.bravehost.com. Sundalo is a Tagalog word for soldier.
The declaration says the country is facing "a crisis of extreme proportions" and that Arroyo is a "bogus president".
"The economy, the rule of law and the moral order lie in ruins," it says.
"Pursuant therefore to our constitutional duty as 'protector of the people and the state,' we have today withdrawn our support from Mrs Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in order to end her unconstitutional and illegal occupation of the presidency."
"The military said 1,500 extra troops were being sent into the capital to crush the uprising, and a military source said the rebels had been given until 0700 GMT to surrender. There was no word on what would happen if they did not.
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 Lim and others were said to be planning their next move.
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.
The renegade soldiers stormed the hotel on Thursday after walking out of a Manila court hearing where they were on trial for the 2003 coup attempt. That uprising failed when the armed forces declined to join the rebel soldiers.
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 organised by the military, the powerful Catholic church and the country's political elites.
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