MANILA, Philippines -- A detained coup plotter and new senator of the republic took over a luxury hotel in the country's financial district Thursday in yet another armed attempt to oust President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But the moment Antonio Trillanes opened his mouth marked the beginning of the end of his bizarre quest for power.
After taunting government forces, saying his group of an estimated 30 rogue troops had enough will to oust the unpopular Mrs. Arroyo, Trillanes and cashiered general Danilo Lim surrendered amid noxious teargas fumes and the crash of glass as an armored personnel carrier rammed its way into the Manila Peninsula hotel lobby.
Trillanes ended the seven-hour standoff claiming his group did not want to be responsible for the possible deaths of a handful of civilian supporters and more than a hundred journalists.
"You are victims and witnesses to the ruthlessness of this government," the former Navy officer told reporters.
No People in quest for Power
The real reason for Trillanes' ignominious surrender was apparent hours before elite cops led him to a bus enroute to the capital region police headquarters.
Despite a viral text (SMS) campaign and the appearance of a website supporting the coup attempt, and Trillanes' televised appeal, no crowd gathered around the hotel.
The only report of civilian reinforcements were two jeepneys blocked by cops. The occupants of the vehicles, said to be urban poor supporters of deposed president Joseph Estrada, claimed they had been paid a few hundreds of pesos to attend a rally.
Bad weather could have discouraged protesters from gathering around the five-star hotel. Government troops in full battle gear also moved fast to block access to the Peninsula.
A defeated Trillanes would later complain that his supporters were turned away or were scared off by the state's bristling display of force.
But threat of bloodshed failed to stop two People Power revolts that toppled the same number of Presidents. The first peaceful uprising that ousted the two-decade dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Marcos had nuns and students facing down tanks. The second massive protest that brought down Mr. Estrada also took place amid threats of a government crackdown.
The real reason for the failure of the Peninsula caper was simple: While majority of Filipinos distrust and dislike the scandal-prone Arroyo government, their cynicism also covers an inept and fragmented political opposition.
It is an opposition with varied, often conflicting, interests. The manifesto prepared by Trillanes' camp sounded the death knell for their attempt at people power.
Aside from listing the scandals that have hounded Mrs. Arroyo, the manifesto also alleged that the incumbent Chief Executive had "stolen" the Presidency from Mr. Estrada.
That statement, in effect, alienated the million-strong protesters that had massed on the EDSA highway after Mr. Estrada's Senate pals blocked the opening of crucial evidence in his impeachment trial.
It may have been aimed at rousing Estrada's still many fans among the urban poor. But the renegade officers and their civilian cohorts may have forgotten a salient fact of Philippine people power exercises -- the need for middle-class skills and resources.
Mr. Estrada's recent pardon, in fact, had caused an outcry from reformist groups in the country, including the private prosecutors that won a conviction for plunder. It was seen as an encouragement of corruption and a desperate, expedient act by an administration facing public unrest over a series of scandals involving high officials and Mrs. Arroyo's controversial and powerful husband.
How Trillanes could have thought that Mr. Estrada could be a rallying point is something that boggles political observers,
In fact, most politicians identified with the ousted leader stayed away. And the former president himself seemed clueless about the madcap stunt.
The few civilian opposition leaders at the ritzy hotel seemed as out of touch with reality as the younger military officers were.
Former vice president Teofisto Guingona at one point raised a glass of water for a premature victory toast. Trillanes' laywers, JV Bautista and Argee Guevarra, acted as cheerleaders when their client's confidence started flagging and he turned away to avoid reporters' questions. The lawyers, alluding to the November 30 holiday honoring Andres Bonifacio -- leader of the Katipunan that started the uprising against Spanish colonizers -- said there would be no backing down. They likened the stand-off and the imminent threat of government force as an opportunity for heroism; both said they were ready to die.
Trillanes never as much while vowing to bring down the government. And in the end, it was with a whine and a pout that he ended his pathetic excuse for a coup.