NEWS  FEATURE:  A  WEDDING  CALLED  OFF

MANILA, NOVEMBER 30, 2007  (STAR) Bridegroom Rian Montaño was enjoying lunch at the luxurious Peninsula Manila hotel in Makati City when around 30 rebel soldiers stormed through the doors, brandishing weapons and sending terrified diners scampering.

Waiters dressed in white tunics moved between tables, pouring coffee and taking orders, when the rebel soldiers burst into the hotel lobby around noon, shattering the relaxed lunch-time atmosphere.

Montano, whose bride-to-be Mars Magtayo was already in her wedding gown ahead of Thursday’s planned ceremony, was stunned.

“Why now? I have prepared for this wedding for a year,” he complained. “Of all the days, they had to choose this one.”

His bride held a bouquet of roses in her hand.

“I feel a little worried,” she said, adding that the reception was moved to a nearby hotel. “I have had better days than this.”

The soldiers, accompanied by armed guards, broke down the hotel doors, overwhelming security guards, and called on the military to immediately withdraw support from President Arroyo.

Managers tried to get guests out and into nearby hotels as troops took up positions around the hotel.

But guest Jun Samaniego, a Filipino-American who arrived in Manila from the United States with his family on Wednesday, took the ordeal in stride.

“We were having lunch when the soldiers barged in,” he said.

“Filipinos who have seen it all before continued eating, but we noticed the foreigners quickly left their tables. They appeared quite alarmed with what was happening. There was no shooting, just lots of shouting.

“We arrived (Wednesday) night for what was supposed to be a relaxing holiday,” he said.

“I hope they can resolve it quickly. This is a black eye for the Philippines. But I still love this country,” Samaniego added.

Talk about deja vu

Four years after disgruntled troops, led by a charismatic young navy lieutenant, seized Oakwood hotel in a daylong uprising, the same men walked out of their trial over the incident and barged into another hotel to again press their demands for President Arroyo to resign.

Hundreds of guests were scrambling to vacate rooms as security forces surrounded the Peninsula hotel in the rain.

“I lived here for four years, so I understand the way it is,” said Tom Collins of Honolulu, who flew in for the wedding of Montano at the hotel.

“It’s just an inconvenience. I don’t think this was handled well.”

Trillanes led a group of disgruntled junior officers in seizing the Oakwood Premier in Makati City in July 2003, highlighting their call for Mrs. Arroyo to step down.

Trillanes, now an elected a member of the Senate, seized another ritzy hotel in Makati, reiterating his call against Mrs. Arroyo.

Some of the foreigners who were caught in the six-hour standoff were confused over what was happening.

Some though took advantage of the situation to take pictures of men in uniform who were obviously being followed by the media.

Some foreign guests did not even mind the commotion and simply went on eating until they were informed that they had to leave the hotel.

Tourists billeted at the hotel became witnesses of another power grab attempt.

Many did not leave until they were advised that police were about to assault the hotel.

“When they see something like this, people will not come here,’ said businessman Peter Randel, from Sydney, Australia.

“My friends were coming but guess they won’t come here any more,” he said.

The Peninsula management said 310 out of the 497 rooms were occupied.

About 200 guests led the massive checkout, lining up in the reception area with hastily packed bags. Some even carried their clothes in plastic bags.

In a statement, the Peninsula said they will close down temporarily to assess the extent of the damage caused by the six-hour standoff.

“The Peninsula Manila will pick up all charges from the hotels where its guests were transferred, up to and including 12:00 noon on Friday, 30 November.”

“The management...wishes to reassure its guests and patrons that it did everything possible to ensure their safety,” said Mariano Garchitorena, public relations director of the hotel.

Montano, for his part, said the incident had soured him towards Trillanes.

“I used to like the senator because my father was a general and we supported him, but not anymore,” he said, referring to his father, retired police general Ramon Montano who earlier supported calls for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation.

The younger Montano had booked 50 rooms at the hotel for the wedding.

But his bride, resplendent in her gown, remained calm as she prepared to evacuate.

“The wedding is still pushing through. This will not stop me from marrying Rian,” she said. - Michael Punongbayan, AP,


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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