MANILA, Philippines – Philippine troops and SWAT teams stormed a five-star hotel on Thursday that dissident military officers commandeered after walking out of their coup trial and demanding that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo resign.
At least two people were injured during the assault of the Peninsula hotel in Makati, Manila's business district. An armored personnel carrier, earlier used as cover by the security forces, was used to crash through the roped-shut lobby entrance, where dense clouds of tear gas wafted through.
A leader of the dissident officers said they would leave peacefully.
"For the safety of everyone, we're going out ... because we cannot live with our conscience if some of you get hurt in the crossfire," Antonio Trillanes told reporters.
"There's no loss here," said Trillanes, who was elected to the Senate in May, campaigning from detention. "We just did what has to be done. It is tantamount to treason if I don't do anything. If somebody lost here, it's the whole nation."
The first shots erupted about 75 minutes after a deadline passed for the men to surrender after contempt of court warrants were filed against them. After the sound of breaking glass, tear gas began wafting through the lobby, and those inside covered their faces with cloths soaked in water.
At least one dissident soldier, distinguishable by a red armband, crouched inside the hotel lobby, his finger near the trigger of an M-16 rifle. Many journalists refused a request from the president's spokesman that they leave.
Joined by other dissident officers and leaders from the opposition and the left, the coup defendants clearly were trying to foster the Philippines' third "people power" revolt, making phone calls and sending cell phone text messages seeking to generate crowds to support them.
But as the day wore on and hotel guests were evacuated, few people turned out for the latest effort to oust Arroyo, who has survived at least three coup plots and three impeachment efforts during nearly seven tumultuous years in power.
Asked if he had a message for Arroyo, Trillanes said: "Sooner or later, the time of reckoning will come. I may not live to see it."
The trial for Trillanes and his co-defendants is over a 2003 insurrection in which troops commandeered a shopping center and hotel and demanded Arroyo's ouster.
Escorted by military police, who apparently did not prevent them from leaving the court, the defendants marched to the Peninsula hotel, pushed away guards at the entrance, and set up a command center in a second-floor function room. Armed guards were set up on stairways from the lobby.
Arroyo called an emergency Cabinet meeting. The Presidential Security Group, which provides security at the presidential palace, went on red alert.
The officers were joined by Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim — suspected of involvement in another failed coup plot last year — along with dozens of sympathizers within 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.
"Mrs. Arroyo stole the presidency from Estrada, and later manipulated the results of 2004 elections," Lim said.
Arroyo took over the presidency when predecessor Joseph Estrada was ousted in the second "people power" revolt in January 2001, and opponents have criticized the legitimacy of her rule ever since. She also has been fighting allegations that she rigged the 2004 elections that gave her a six-year term.
After agreeing to surrender, Trillanes said he was convinced that other officers in the always-restive military are fed up with government corruption and won't stay quiet.
"I am convinced that most of them sympathize with our cause," he said. "That's enough for us now. Eventually it will be their turn to live up to their mandate as protectors of the people."
The officers on trial were among 300 soldiers who took over the ritzy Oakwood hotel and a nearby shopping center in Makati in July 2003, rigging the area with bombs and demanding Arroyo's resignation. They denounced the government and military corruption, but were accused of staging a failed coup. They surrendered after the daylong uprising.