MANILA — Former Foreign Minister Arturo Tolentino proclaimed himself acting president of the Philippines on Sunday and, with the backing of about 300 rebellious army and marine corps troops, commandeered the historic Manila Hotel as his "official seat of government."
Tolentino, 75, took an "oath of office" in the driveway of the hotel, vowing to govern until ousted President Ferdinand E. Marcos can be restored to the presidency. He said that he was acting on instructions from Marcos, who lives in exile in Hawaii.
Early today, about 200 of the estimated 300 troops with Tolentino surrendered to government forces, military spokesman Col. Emiliano Templo said on government radio. In a separate statement this morning, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile said about 180 armed loyalists remained inside the hotel.
As part of his act of defiance of President Corazon Aquino's government, Tolentino, who was Marcos' vice-presidential running mate in last February's discredited presidential election, announced formation of a shadow Cabinet that included Enrile.
Enrile Backs Aquino
But Enrile, who led the coup that drove Marcos into exile Feb. 25, told reporters Sunday night that he remains loyal to Aquino.
"Don't panic. . . . I don't need another job," he said in a press conference. "The problem is not that big, and the situation is being handled with the least abrasion. . . ."
Enrile dispatched heavily armed soldiers to secure the nation's five television stations, and his troops "disabled" a pro-Marcos radio station that had been broadcasting appeals for food and for people to go to the 17-story downtown hotel to support Tolentino and his troops.
Aquino, away from Manila on a scheduled two-day trip to the troubled southern island of Mindanao, said she remains firmly in control of the government. She also asked her troops to use "maximum tolerance" against the Marcos partisans. But she said that criminal charges will be filed against Tolentino.
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Aquino arrived back in Manila this morning and gave Tolentino 24 hours to end his revolt.
During an impromptu press conference at the hotel this morning, Tolentino hinted that he and his fellow loyalist politicians were resigned that their attempt to take over the government had ended in failure. Tolentino asserted that Enrile's forces were preventing supporters from coming to the hotel, and Tolentino's son, Victor, told a reporter later: "There's no way out of this now. I'm just afraid for my father's safety."
The younger Tolentino added the hope that a peaceful solution was still possible, but he added that the waiting game may last another day.
The scene at the hotel was somewhat reminiscent of Enrile's February coup, which was supported by tens of thousands of civilians who flocked into the streets around a military base that he took over as his headquarters in suburban Manila. A big difference was the numbers.
Only a few thousand civilians held an all-night vigil Sunday night outside the Manila Hotel, singing folk songs and shouting slogans against Aquino. By daybreak, their numbers had dwindled to just a few hundred. And unlike the case of Enrile, who was joined by then-deputy military chief of staff Fidel V. Ramos, the Marcos loyalists present Sunday included only four generals, none of whom command large forces.
Another major difference was the stand of the American government. The U.S. Embassy in Manila moved quickly Sunday night to back Aquino against Tolentino's attempted countercoup.
Embassy Denounces Move
"The United States government fully supports the government of President Aquino, and we are against any effort such as this to undermine it," the embassy's first secretary, Charles Martin, said in a statement that he termed the official U.S. position on the incident.
Last month, Secretary of State George P. Shultz chided Marcos for using his exile home in the United States as a base to try to destabilize the Aquino government.
The posh Manila Hotel, filled with tour groups from the United States, Australia and Europe when Tolentino's backers seized it, was surrounded by soldiers loyal to Aquino, Enrile said during his press conference. And Gen. Ramon Montano, the Manila police chief, said his forces will attack the pro-Marcos troops only if they attempt to march on Malacanang, the presidential palace.
"We do not want bloodshed," Enrile declared. "We do not want violence."
Early today, Enrile sent a team of generals to the hotel, where they met with Brig. Gen. Jose Maria Zumel, the apparent commander of the Marcos loyalists backing Tolentino. When Marcos was president, Zumel was chief of security for First Lady Imelda Marcos.
Declaring that he sought a peaceful settlement to the drama, Enrile said, "We hope we could settle this in a manner that will not affect the unity of the armed forces of the Philippines."
Hotel Entrances Sealed