Mon, Jul 28, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Mutinous troops demand a new government for the Philippines

DISCONTENT The soldiers have agreed to negotiate their grievances under the threat of a military assault on the shopping center they were holding

AP , MANILA

Rogue Philippine soldiers with red arm bands take up positions in Manila's Makati financial district yesterday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

About 200 mutinous troops demanding a new government stormed a ritzy shopping and apartment complex yesterday and wired it with explosives, but agreed to negotiate over their grievances under threat of a military assault.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a "state of rebellion" giving authorities emergency powers to make arrests without warrants, sent tanks to surround the complex in the heart of Manila's financial district and demanded that mutineers surrender ahead of an evening deadline.

"Your actions are already hovering at the fringes of outright terrorism," Arroyo told the rogue soldiers in a televised address. "You have already stained the uniform. Do not drench it with dishonor."

A first deadline, and then a second, passed without incident before senior officials said late yesterday they had extended it indefinitely and entered negotiations with the group of mutinous officers and soldiers, who complained in a statement about corruption and favoritism. Troops have in the past complained about low and unequal salaries.

The standoff at the Glorietta Complex started off dramatically but later looked like surreal political protest rather than a coup as the mutineers -- their demeanor largely casual despite tanks outside -- held news conferences in a toney apartment building they seized.

Away from the scene, there was little sign of tension as Filipinos took the latest in a long line of coup rumors in their stride.

Negotiations began late yesterday. "I am hopeful," Cabinet Secretary Mike Defensor said after meeting with the rebels, adding that he would relay their demands to the president.

"Hopefully we will end all these tonight," another negotiator, Senator Vicente Sotto, said. "If they meet half-way ... there is an opportunity to address their concerns, [and] maybe they will return to barracks."

The mutineers held a news conference earlier to say they would stand their ground but were willing to discuss grievances.

"We are not attempting to grab power" navy Lieutenant. Senior Grade Antonio Trillanes told reporters at the Glorietta Complex. "We are just trying to express our grievances."

Unlike the "people power" revolts that peacefully ousted two presidents in recent years, there appeared to be little public support for the mutiny. The military chief of staff declared loyalty to the president.

Arroyo met with Trillanes' mother, who appealed to her son to resolve the crisis peacefully.

In camouflage uniforms, the renegade troops set up gun posts and rigged explosives at 3am around the complex, including one of the capital's biggest shopping malls and a residential high-rise that is home to foreign diplomats and the city's rich. Packs allegedly containing C-4 explosives were hung from traffic signs and doors to an upscale department store in the mall, with wires strung to the inside of the complex.

"We demand the resignation of our leaders in the present regime," the mutineers said in a statement. "We are willing to sacrifice our lives today, to pursue a program not tainted with politicking."

They also released a video accusing the government of selling arms and ammunition to Muslim and communist rebels, staging deadly bombings to justify more aid from the US, and preparing to declare martial law to stay in power.

Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes said he has recommended to Arroyo that an independent commission look into allegations of arms sales to rebels and his involvement in a recent deadly bombing in the south.

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