MANILA, Philippines — A group of disaffected military officers took over a swank hotel Thursday, demanded the president quit, then quickly gave up when it became clear the public wouldn’t transform their protest into another round of Philippine “people power.”
Forgive anyone for tuning into television and thinking they were watching a rerun. Four years ago, the same officers tried to do the same thing at another upscale hotel a few blocks away.
The result was nearly the same too, though President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo — clearly miffed that she is still dogged by attempts to oust her — showed less tolerance this time, dispatching troops and police SWAT teams. They fired tear gas and volleys of gunfire into the lobby of the Peninsula hotel and used an armored personnel carrier to bash in the roped-shut glass entrance doors.
Two people were injured during the assault. A leader of the dissident officers agreed to leave peacefully to avoid bloodshed. National Police Chief Avelino Razon said 101 people were arrested at the hotel in Manila’s business district and that more were being sought. He said documents found there “support the theory that this is a well-planned activity.”
The capital and surrounding areas were put under a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew.
The real story was the growing public apathy for efforts to oust Arroyo, and her opponents’ inability to foster a third “people power” revolt like the ones that ousted her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, in 2001, and strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
It’s not that Arroyo is more popular; just the opposite is true with yet another round of corruption allegations dogging her government and husband.
But the opposition has no charismatic leader. Fernando Poe Jr., who finished second to Arroyo in the 2004 election, died of a stroke six months later. At least three previous coup plots and three impeachment attempts have plagued Arroyo’s seven years in power, but each has drawn fewer people to the streets.
It was supposed to be just another day in the trial of 27 soldiers over a 2003 insurrection in which they briefly commandeered a shopping center-hotel complex and demanded Arroyo’s ouster, accusing the government and military of corruption.
Despite armed guards, the men walked out of court and headed to the Peninsula. There, they brushed aside security guards and swept through the lobby — decorated with a large Christmas tree — and set up a command center in a second-floor function room, stationing their own armed guards in the stairways.
They were joined by Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, who is suspected of involvement in a failed coup plot last year, along with dozens of sympathizers from the military and leaders of leftist and opposition groups.
Lim issued a statement urging Arroyo to resign and asking the armed forces to withdraw support for her. The leftists frantically worked their cell phones, trying to mobilize backing.
Promises came, but few people showed up on a dreary, drizzly day.