I know in a previous post I extolled the virtues of the leisurely pace a film camera affords you, but not this time. Not when there's breaking news.
I was peacefully minding my own business in my cubicle when news broke out that Senator Antonio Trillanes, et al. have taken over the Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati. (Initial reaction: Why, Trillanes, why? Youve tried this before. It didnt work. What makes you think it'll work this time? We're supposed to do this together. Together with us, the people. And they have spoken. They dont want this.) I took my puny little point-and-shoot XA2 film camera and made my way over there.
I had one roll of 24 shots and I went through them just like that. I debated going back to the store and getting another one, but what if something happens? I was in the midst of all those soldiers, police SWAT teams, media people, snapping away. Of course the thought that they'd start shooting anytime occurred to me. I sized up the GMA 7 van if I could take cover under it. (I could.) Then the order came.
The soldiers started to move. And dagnabbit I was out of film. I just stayed put at the intersection of Ayala and Makati Avenue, when shots rang out. Everybody scampered for safety. Pop...pop...pop! I made my way back to the GMA 7 van and crouched behind it.
The Manila Pen. (You can see the GMA van where I took cover.)
Another view of the intersection.
While shots continued to ring out, and soldiers took cover where I was, I made my way back to another van and crouched behind that. Crouching beside me was a Net-25 field reporter reporting away, saying that he and another reporter got separated during the shooting. Standing over us were two plainclothes policemen, handguns drawn, trying to determine where the shots were coming from. Apparently they were clueless. The shots were coming from snipers in the building across Shangri-La hotel beside the PLDT building on Makati avenue. It was coming from their team. I could see puffs of smoke on the Manila Pen as the bullets hit. One grizzled reporter said the snipers were marking enemy positions with bullets, and I might add, scaring away 'usiseros' such as myself. They succeeded as the usi crowd disappeared. Shots continued intermittently. Then came a lull. I could see Marines trying to find away into the Manila Peninsula, retreating, regrouping, then trying again.
Last minute checking of gear
The assault minutes away...
...as a close-to-empty Ayala looks on. No People Power today, folks.
I took that opportunity to go back to that photo lab on the walkway between Landmark and Greenbelt to have the film developed and to get another roll of film. When I got there, the Ayala malls were closed. So no film. It was about this time when a monster armored vehicle rumbled by towards the hotel. This was serious hardware.
So filmless, light failing, I decided to just head on back.
Update 5:46. It's over. General Pagbilao declares the operation "a success". Senator Trillanes has been neutralized. He is alive and well, thank God. No casualties.
Impressions on a crisis: One block away from the action, in the mall area, it was as if nothing momentous was happening. It gives the impression that Makati is composed of self-contained cells, operating independently. What's happening in one cell not affecting the others. To the mall crowd, and the office crowd, it was just another humdrum day, and they went about their business.
Another glaring observation was, how the hell was I able to get that close to the Manila Pen? The police I suppose did not take crowd control too seriously. Of course as I got closer to the Manila Pen, the crowd thinned out, but that was no thanks to the police. The crowds stayed a safe distance away except for a few intrepid souls. When the order to storm the hotel came, the generals warned the media to stay away. The generals! The rank-and-file formed a cordon around the area but we were able to cross it, and a general bawled them out. Apparently the police were 'scared' of the media and let them in, me included. The general yelled, "Dont be afraid of them! You are doing your job!" That's the only time the cops herded the crowd away. But of course the media people didnt move. It took the generals yelling at them for them to reluctantly move.
The media people felt invincible. As the soldiers rushed past them, they stayed put, not heeding that rebels in the Manila Pen might open fire on the Marines moving into position, or maybe they had faith that the rebels wouldnt open fire into a crowd of civilians. I suppose they gave each other courage, or the fear of being out-scooped was greater than the fear of being shot. Overheard a young reporter beside me on her phone: "Hello, 'dy. Opo. Malayo kami. [We werent that far away -- Jeg.] Tsaka hindi ako nag-iisa. May mga kasama ako dito." Cellphones. Arent they great?