(AFP) – Nov 30, 2007
MANILA (AFP) — Philippine authorities launched a manhunt Friday for more suspects accused of helping stage a dramatic but short-lived rebellion against the government which was put down by the military.
The small band of primarily armed forces officers, who seized a luxury hotel Thursday to demand the resignation of President Gloria Arroyo, were bundled off by police after a lightning raid, but officials said others were involved.
Despite the ongoing search, a beaming Arroyo appeared on government television late Friday to say that "the rule of law has triumphed."
"The Philippine people have shown our civil institutions are strong," Arroyo said, branding the mutineers as "desperate men who were blind to the will of their fellow Filipinos."
Senior state prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco told local television network ABS-CBN that 50 people had been charged with rebellion, including ringleaders Navy Lieutenant Antonio Trillanes and Brigadier General Danilo Lim.
All of them appeared before a special tribunal with a police escort, their arresting officers and battery of lawyers. The charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Police chief Avelino Razon earlier said documents found among debris in the Peninsula Hotel, which SWAT teams stormed in a hail of gunfire and tear gas to end the stand-off, indicated "four groups" had taken part in the mutiny.
He told reporters at least three renegade officers seen taking over the hotel had managed to get away despite the security cordon and a subsequent overnight curfew in Manila.
"One left a wig at the hotel premises," Razon told reporters.
Officials said up to 20 other people who were not part of the hotel siege were under investigation, including politicians and businessmen said to have financed the rebellion.
"Some of them are businessmen but I do not want to be hasty by naming names," National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales was quoted as saying in the local press.
"We are investigating the possible involvement of certain politicians," said armed forces chief of staff General Hermogenes Esperon, without giving further details.
Police said that 14 soldiers and as many as 36 civilians had been detained for their role in the mutiny including Roman Catholic bishop Julio Labayen, who was later released to the custody of his fellow bishops.
Arroyo has faced repeated coup attempts since taking power in 2001, and many of the people involved in Thursday's mutiny had come directly from a court hearing into their involvement in a 2003 coup attempt.
Razon said some were the "usual suspects" from previous attempts to bring down the government in the Philippines, where the military, big business and the Catholic church all hold powerful sway over national political life.
The armed forces can make or break a president, and the leaders of Thursday's uprising had appealed to the rest of the military to join them.
However, their appeal met little response and authorities later used an armoured personnel carrier to force their way into the hotel lobby, prompting the mutineers to surrender.
Despite the rebellion's failure to attract large numbers of supporters onto the streets, it appeared to have been well-organised.
Police did not stop the rebels on their way to the hotel, witnesses said, and a detailed website appeared as the uprising was launched that included harsh criticisms of the state of the nation under Arroyo.
Among those found with the rebels were former Philippine vice president and vocal Arroyo critic Teofisto Guingona as well as Bishop Labayen.
Foreign and local press organisations criticised the police for taking dozens of journalists into detention after they refused to leave the hotel despite the impending raid, calling it a violation of freedom of the press.
The journalists were released before dawn Friday.
More than 1,000 leftist activists staged a rally near the presidential palace on Friday, declaring their support for the mutineers as they waved red banners and placards saying "Gloria, out now."
Police said the rally ended without incident.
Arroyo has been repeatedly accused of stealing her 2004 election after tapes emerged of her talking to an election commission official while the votes were still being counted.
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