Thursday, November 29, 2007





Where the People Aren’t

This is a very bad day in the Philippines; possibly the worst in twenty years. I am writing this on Thursday evening, November 29. I was planning to post a new entry on this blog over the weekend, but this is not the topic I was planning to take up. A midnight to 5 a.m. curfew begins in two hours. Metro Manila has not had curfew since the fall of the dictator Marcos in 1986,

As I do most every Thursday or Friday I spent the morning reading in the Asian Development Bank library. This is without doubt the best library of development economics in Asia. I usually don’t get much past the magazines and journals, however. Not long before noon there was a notice that soldiers accused in a failed mutiny in 2003 were marching in the Makati central business district and that the area should be avoided.

I got home to Quezon City in mid-afternoon and stayed glued to the television for the next six hours. Some 30 or 40 lightly armed soldiers in fatigues marched to Makati’s Manila Peninsula Hotel and took over. With them was the leader of the failed 2003 mutiny Antonio Trillanes and his sidekick General Danilo Lim. The 2003 mutiny was centered on the Oakwood Hotel, also in Makati. Trillanes has been in jail for the last four years while his trial drags on and on. In the meantime he was elected to the Philippine Senate with 11 million votes (the 24 Philippine Senators are elected at large, with 12 elected every three years) in the May elections. Trillanes and Lim had walked out of the trial in what is portrayed as a spontaneous action.

I am completely disgusted by the behavior of everyone involved: the police, the rebel soldiers, the media, and the rebel’s civilian supporters including the three senile old idiots former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, former University of the Philippines President Francisco Nemenzo, and retired Roman Catholic Bishop Julio Labayen.

The police allowed armed soldiers to march to a five star business hotel and take over. Overwhelming force could easily have been amassed and stopped the march. Once there, the police allowed scores of media people and smaller numbers of urban poor (some still carrying the sack lunches they had been provided in this “spontaneous” uprising) to enter the hotel as well.

During the press conferences conducted by Lim and Trillanes from inside the hotel, they spoke vaguely of the corruption and illegitimacy of the government of President Gloria Arroyo. True, the government is illegitimate. No one seriously doubts that she cheated in the election of 2004. Trillanes is also correct in criticizing the impunity with which the military has gunned down several hundred leftwing political organizers and journalists since she took power in 2001. Arroyo was vice president when a military-civilian uprising installed her in power following the ouster of Joseph Estrada in 2001. But what does taking over a hotel and driving out the guests have to do with anything?

The media poured into the hotel. It was indeed exciting to watch the televised events from both sides, from that of the rebel troops, and from the side of the police. It is the job of media to get as close to the action as possible, but this was a criminal event, this armed takeover of a hotel. It was not the same as covering a revolutionary movement. It was not like going to a rebel zone, then returning to government controlled territory. It was more like covering a bank robbery from the perspective of the armed bank robber.

This will be an important point in the next days and weeks. Was this a criminal or political event? Insofar as the rebel troops have no ideology, and no mass base, I would insist that it was a criminal event.

Finally, there were the civilian supporters. In addition to the three stooges mentioned above, there were also the “running priest” Robert Reyes, former Sanlakas Party List Congressman J.V. Bautista, and a handful of other has-beens. Their presence reflects the near total bankruptcy of the left, including the religious left.

The brave Lim and Trillanes vowed that this was where they would make their stand. An hour or so later, when the police finally began to assert control over the situation and fired some teargas into the lobby, the civilian supporters said this only showed the violence of the regime, responding with brutality to the nonviolence of the rebel soldiers.


If armed bandits knock over a bank without firing a shot, we do not refer to them as “nonviolent.”

As for Lim and Trillanes, they quickly agreed to exit the hotel to the waiting police vehicles. They didn’t want to endanger the innocent civilians, they said. The hundred or so urban poor supporters on the outside, stickers and pre-printed support posters in-hand, quickly abandoned this spontaneous uprising as well.

Along with a significant number of media people who were inside the hotel, the soldiers and their civilian apologists were hauled off to jail.

Bishop Labayen pontificated about the voice of the people justifying their actions.

Hey Obispo, the people weren’t there.

The winner of this fiasco is Gloria Arroyo, who now has further justification for her repressive policies.


mariar said...

am sad. sad. sad. sad. sad..

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