On November 29, a number of soldiers led by Captain Antonio Trillanes, who were on trial for their role in a 2003 popular uprising against Filipino President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, walked out of court accompanied by the soldiers who were supposed to be guarding them.
They led a march through Manila to the Manila Peninsular hotel, which they commandeered for a press conference calling for a "people power" uprising to force Arroyo to resign and be replaced with a popular government. However, the hotel was stormed by over 1000 pro-government military and police, and the rebel soldiers, along with some civilian supporters, were arrested.
One of the arrested civilians was Professor Francisco Nemenzo, an activist from the left-wing group Laban ng Masa, who spoke to Green Left Weekly.
"Thirty-five of us are now charged with rebellion as a result of the standoff. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment. This is also considered a non-bailable offense", he explained to GLW.
He said that the rebellion was precipitated by the "worsening economic conditions of the masses. The economic achievements President Arroyo brags about benefits only big business and foreign investors."
Endemic political corruption and lack of democracy were the other major factors. "Arroyo cheated in the 2004 elections and killed all attempts at impeachment by bribing the congressmen", Nemenzo said. "We have lost faith in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Trillanes was elected senator last May, despite all odds, but the government refuses to allow him to perform his duties. He has been kept in prison since 2003 and in the last few months he has not been allowed to receive visitors, much less to address the media."
The demands of the soldiers were "for Arroyo and Vice President Noli De Castro to step down and give way to a 'transitional revolutionary government' (TRG). They did not use that term, but the essence of what they called a 'caretaker government' is what Laban ng Masa defines as a TRG", he said. Nemenzo explained that grassroots civil society leaders, progressive church leaders and the left had supported the soldiers "because all of us are fed up with this illegitimate, corrupt and abusive government. In the case of Laban ng Masa this was also because the rebel soldiers led by Brigadier-General Danilo Lim and Senator Trillanes share our goal of system change, not just a change of president as in previous 'people's power' exercises."
He expressed the hope that the soldiers' actions would have a catalytic effect on Filipino society. "I hope it will inspire people to act. But we will see how the unorganized masses and the rest in the armed forces will respond to the campaign we are planning ... I assure you that we will fight back."
Calling for international solidarity, he said: "Just tell the world that we are fighting a just cause. This is not a revolt of right-wing generals. This is a joint struggle of the progressive wing in the armed forces and the mass movement."