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Pro-Marcos Troops Welcomed Back : Manila Rebels in Camp--30 Push-ups as a Penance

July 09, 1986|MARK FINEMAN and NICK B. WILLIAMS Jr. | Times Staff Writers

MANILA — As military bomb squads Tuesday purged the posh Manila Hotel of gasoline bombs made with Perrier bottles, the Philippine armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, welcomed back soldiers who had taken part in an abortive 38-hour rebellion at the hotel and meted out their punishment: 30 push-ups.

More than 100 heavily armed soldiers were taken to a gymnasium at Manila's Ft. Bonafacio shortly after sunrise when they abandoned their attempt, along with hundreds of civilian supporters of ousted President Ferdinand E. Marcos, to seize power from President Corazon Aquino.

There Ramos told them, "Welcome back. Let's all go to work for President Corazon Aquino."

The general then ordered the men to do the push-ups and joined in the exercise himself.

The Aquino government had promised that no punitive action would be taken against the officers and enlisted men who joined the rebellion late Sunday afternoon.

Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, who with Ramos had sparked the rebellion that led to Marcos' ouster last February, repeated the pledge Tuesday to the returning troops.

"There will be no retaliation or discrimination against you," said Enrile, who reportedly masterminded the government strategy that got the men to surrender the hotel. "We shall consider this whole thing as past. It is all finished."

After a re-induction ceremony, Gen. Jose Maria Zumel, chief strategist of the rebelling soldiers, told reporters that his men left the hotel "to unite, because we never had any intention of dividing the armed forces."

"It's always nice to be back with our comrades-in-arms," he added.

The government may not be so lenient with Arturo Tolentino, however. It said Tuesday that a committee will meet today to decide whether to charge and arrest the pro-Marcos politician for leading the hotel occupation.

Aquino may still grant the 75-year-old former vice presidential candidate clemency even if the panel decides that charges are appropriate. Justice Minister Neptali Gonzales, who met Tuesday with Tolentino and other leaders of the occupation force, said that Aquino may decide not to file charges, in the spirit of "national reconciliation."

"You cannot just arrest him," Gonzales said of Tolentino, who was in hiding Tuesday. "Charges must be filed first."

Meanwhile, a few hundred civilian demonstrators who had camped out in the hotel's marble and hardwood lobby for two nights and a day were dispersed from the front of the hotel on Tuesday afternoon by riot troops. Two of the demonstrators were arrested.

In Washington, Secretary of State George P. Shultz commended Aquino for her "deft handling" of the situation, and White House spokesman Larry Speakes announced that the State Department is investigating any role Marcos might have played.

Marcos, from exile in Hawaii, has denied any involvement in the uprising, but Tolentino himself told supporters that he took the action initially on instructions from the deposed president.

Inside the hotel itself, which was transformed from a national institution of luxury into a grimy dormitory during the siege, government troops and hotel cleaning crews began the arduous task of mopping, buffing, scraping and painting the floors, walls and fixtures of the lobby, the palatial banquet halls and the guest rooms.

Extensive Damage

Victor Sison, the hotel's government-appointed corporate head, estimated the damage at $500,000. He said the pro-Marcos forces had broken in guest room doors with rifle butts, looted food and liquor stores and left mounds of trash everywhere.

In one room on the floor that served as the soldiers' command center, government bomb squads found baskets filled with empty mineral water and soda bottles, nine of which had already been converted into Molotov cocktails.

"If those had been thrown, we would have had a major problem" in the wood-paneled hotel corridors, Sison added.

As hotel officials began reconstructing the incident, Sison said the operation was obviously well planned. Filipinos later identified as Marcos loyalists had checked into the hotel as long as a day before the Sunday pro-Marcos demonstration that led to the hotel takeover.

Communications System Saved

Among the rebel leaders was a former assistant general manager of the hotel, Jerry Santo Domingo, who knew not only the building's layout but also its communications and engineering systems, Sison said. The Marcos supporters also forced the hotel's engineering officer into service, "which was a blessing" because his knowledge avoided damage by amateurs working the systems, the chief executive added.

Another hotel officer, food and beverage manager Mike Wilson, told reporters that hotel employees never lost control of the hotel switchboard. According to Wilson, Marcos personally telephoned the hotel from Hawaii soon after the takeover on Sunday asking to speak to Tolentino.

Hotel operators, all of whom are loyal to Aquino, switched the ousted president's call to the hotel car park, laundry room and other facilities. Marcos never did reach Tolentino, Wilson said, adding that the operators also attempted to confuse the occupying soldiers by scrambling their in-house calls.

Sison said the hotel is insured, but it is still unclear whether its policy covers such damage.

"It might be excluded as an act of war or an act of God--we just don't know," Sison said.

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