The News from Manila - latest Australian report (July 28)

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Sun Jul 27 09:22:29 MDT 2003

High-explosive coup fizzles out

By Matthew Moore and Ellen Tordesillas in Manila and agencies July 28 2003

(Red-band brigade . . . about 70 rebel soldiers address the media just
before the first deadline for their surrender expired late yesterday. Photo:
Erik de Castro/Reuters)

A 19-hour uprising by rebel soldiers in the Philippines ended late last
night when the mutineers surrendered, ending a bizarre standoff at a Manila
complex wired with explosives. The rebels agreed to return to barracks and
said they were willing to face charges, although there were reports the
Government had also made concessions during negotiations to end the siege.
"It was agreed they would end the siege and they will march back to
barracks," Colonel Danilo Lim, a member of the government panel that met the
troops, told reporters.

Just before midnight, Sydney time, the rebels began dismantling the bombs
they had set around the complex, tearing out wires connected to six tubes of
what appeared to be explosives. On radio their leader said that on a scale
of one to 10 they had achieved seven of their objectives.

The collapse of the rebellion came after a dramatic day in which President
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had given the soldiers repeated deadlines to
surrender, which were extended and then abandoned as negotiations went on.
The military had surrounded the complex, awaiting a presidential order to
crush the uprising. A few hours into the siege, the rebel soldiers had
released about 300 hostages - including the Australian ambassador and 10
other Australians - but threatened to set off the bombs and persisted with
their demand that the Government resign.

Dr Arroyo declared a "state of rebellion", giving authorities power to carry
out arrests without warrants, after about 200 rebels stormed the Oakwood
Building, a retail and apartment complex in Manila's Makati business
district late on Saturday.
The rebel leader, Navy Lieutenant Senior Antonio Trillanes, told reporters
that the explosives were for self-defence. "If they try to take us down, we
will be forced to use it," he said.

Trillanes, with 70 other rebel soldiers mostly aged in their 20s, held a
news conference on the sixth floor of the Oakwood Hotel, a few minutes
before Dr Arroyo's original deadline to surrender expired at 5pm (7pm Sydney
time). She told the rogue soldiers in a nationally televised address: "There
is absolutely no justification for the actions you have taken. You have
already stained the uniform. Do not drench it with dishonour. Your actions
are already hovering at the fringes of outright terrorism."

In the hours before the siege ended, rebels wearing red armbands guarded at
least 10 bombs. Journalists, waiting just metres from some of the
explosives, were asked to avoid tripping over cables connecting the bombs.
The mutiny - the Government has refused to label the uprising a coup - had
been timed to embarrass Dr Arroyo as she prepares to present her State of
the Nation address this afternoon. Dr Arroyo had hosted a dinner for a group
of junior officers on Wednesday after media reports that officers had
complained of low pay, corruption in the upper ranks and inadequate housing.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, offered support for the
Arroyo Government, adding: "We don't want to see presidents fall out of the
barrel of a gun."

The rebels listed in the manhunt are all army and naval officers. The rebels
accuse the Government of selling arms to the Muslim separatist Moro Islamic
Liberation Front; claim the Government was behind fatal bombings in the
southern city of Davao in March and April; and accuse Dr Arroyo of planning
to declare martial law next month by using bombings as a pretext to stay in
power after her term ends next year.

The deposed president Joseph Estrada yesterday denied involvement despite
police saying munitions and red-arm bands linked to the rebels had been
seized in a raid on a Manila house owned by the former leader.

Senator Gregorio Honasan, a former colonel who led coup attempts in the
1980s, admitted advising the officers but denied he was involved in the
power grab. However, the Interior Secretary, Jose Lina, alleged Senator
Honasan's "involvement in this is deep" and charges are being prepared.
Senator Honasan was among three senators sent in to negotiate with the
rebels last night. The rebel officers had said in a statement: "We are
asking the present regime to step down because it is no different from the
previous regimes. For this, we are ready to lay down our lives."

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse

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