One thousand troops guard Philippine rebels trial

Around 1,000 troops guarded a Philippine court hearing today for 14 soldiers accused of a 2003 rebellion, the same officers who stormed out of proceedings last month and commandeered a hotel, calling for an anti-government uprising.

The dissident officers are on trial for the day-long mutiny in 2003 and have also been charged for the November 29 attempt to trigger a “people power” revolt against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The trial for their latest coup attempt has yet to begin.

Roads leading to Manila’s Makati City Hall, where the court is located, were blocked by soldiers and police as the detainees, led by Senator Antonio Trillanes, a former navy lieutenant, and US-trained Brig Gen Danilo Lim, were brought in aboard buses in handcuffs.

The hearing was closed to the media, but it is understood the dissident officers apologised to the court for the walkout, said defence lawyer Vicente Verdadero.

“What happened November 29 will not be repeated,” said national police chief Avelino Razon. “All their close-in escorts have been replaced. Each accused will have his own escort and we have placed additional contingency troops to secure them and make sure there is no escape.”

During the uprising, the detainees walked out of the court with their military police guards, marched across Manila’s crowded Makati financial district, and took over the five-star Peninsula hotel.

Government troops later stormed the Peninsula and quelled the rebellion – the fourth against President Arroyo in her seven tumultuous years in power.

Trillanes, who was elected senator in May after campaigning from detention, Lim and their civilian backers have demanded President Arroyo’s resignation citing a string of alleged corruption scandals and human rights abuses.

The latest revolt quickly fizzled out. Analysts have spoken of “people power” fatigue, respect for democracy and the constitution and a disdain for military rule.

President Arroyo described them as a “few desperate men” and vowed to punish them “with the full force of the law.”

She has survived four failed power grabs and three impeachment bids since being catapulted to power after President Joseph Estrada was ousted in a non-violent popular uprising in 2001.

Coup rumours have since persisted, often related to a series of corruption scandals hounding her government.

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