Manhunt for Philippine rebels under way

By Carlos H. Conde
International Herald Tribune
The New York Times
Published: November 30, 2007

MANILA: The Philippine authorities conducted a manhunt Friday for military officers who participated in a standoff in a luxury Manila hotel the day before, in a bizarre uprising that many in the country called a tragedy and a farce.

Officials said they had identified at least four officers, one of them seen wearing a ill-fitting wig during the standoff in the Peninsula Manila Hotel. The authorities named Captain Nicanor Faeldon of the Philippine Marines as the highest-ranking officer to have managed to evade arrest after troops and police officers ended the siege.

“We are looking for him. The manhunt is on,” General Hermogenes Esperon Jr., chief of staff of the Philippine armed forces, told reporters Friday. He said that Faeldon, who was among those standing trial Thursday for a mutiny in 2003, was capable of doing “foolish things.”

Avelino Razon, the national police chief, said that several groups were behind the failed plot to use the hotel as a base to kick-start another “people power” revolt of the kind seen in 1986 and 2001. Several businessmen and politicians were also involved in the uprising, said Norberto Gonzales, national security adviser to the Philippine president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The incident Thursday began after Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th, a former naval officer on trial for leading the 2003 mutiny, led a group of defendants out of a courtroom and marched, along with more than two dozen armed soldiers, many of whom had been assigned as his military escorts, to the nearby Peninsula Manila Hotel. They fortified the premises and held a news briefing where they demanded the ouster of Arroyo and asked for public support.

When it became clear that the revolt leaders had failed to attract a protective crowd around the hotel, the security forces moved in, lobbing tear gas through the windows and crashing an armored personnel carrier into the hotel’s front lobby.

More than a hundred people were arrested, including Trillanes – who won his Senate seat from prison – a general, a former vice president, a Catholic bishop and dozens of journalists who were covering the event. The journalists were released Friday.

The police said Friday that Trillanes and his backers had hoped that an anti-Arroyo demonstration scheduled for Friday, National Heroes’ Day, would be diverted to the vicinity of the Peninsula. Razon, the police chief, told reporters that “some destabilization action” had been planned along with the protests.

In the end, only a few hundred people showed up at the rally. Media analysis of the revolt in Makati, the financial district of Manila, was almost universally dismissive.

“This armed undertaking had failure written all over it,” The Philippine Daily Inquirer said in an editorial Friday. “The idea that a commander-in-chief can be forced out of office by taking over a secluded building in Makati was ridiculous in 2003; it is only pathetic now,” it said, referring to the 2003 siege by Trillanes and his men.

“Comedy, yes, because we all know nothing will happen,” wrote a columnist, Emil Jurado, in The Manila Standard Today. “Tragic in the sense that while the economy is turning around we have characters who can’t wait for 2010 for President Arroyo to step down.”

Ana Marie Pamintuan, a Philippine Star columnist, compared the rebels to cats. “These men keep jumping into the headlights, testing how many lives they have left.”

About Carlos H. Conde

Researcher at Human Rights Watch (@condeHRW @hrw_ph). Former journalist (NYT, IHT, among others).
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