Accessibility links

Police Retake Manila Airport Tower - 2003-11-08

Philippine officials say the capital is back to normal after government troops shot dead two armed men who tried to take over a control tower at Manila's international airport early Saturday morning.

Panfilo Villaruel, a former head of the Air Transportation Office, and his accomplice, Ricardo Gatchaliar, entered the airport control tower in the Philippine capital shortly before midnight and ordered the air traffic controllers out of the building at gunpoint.

Mr. Panfilo later told local radio station DZBB he was protesting against government corruption and the country's lack of progress. The 62-year-old said he wanted his grievances to be heard.

After a three-hour standoff, police stormed the tower in a dramatic encounter heard by listeners of the radio station. As shots rang out in the background, Mr. Panfilo could be heard saying, "They are killing us…we surrender," and then he gasped for breath.

National Security Advisor Roilo Golez says the situation in the city is back to normal, and he defended the decision to shoot the gunmen.

"Yes, it's back to normal, it was a quick resolution," he said. "We had to do it very quickly because they occupied a very sensitive, very vital infrastructure and this is the airport tower. If we didn't do this fast, that would have delayed and paralyzed the air traffic, affected the economy, and could even affect the security situation."

Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo condemned the attack and ordered security stepped up in the capital. She said, however, that the incident was not an attempted coup.

The airport attack comes just three months after hundreds of disgruntled soldiers stormed a commercial shopping center, demanding an end to government corruption in a failed coup attempt.

Mr. Golez says it appears the two gunmen at the airport were acting alone.

"We're still investigating the whole thing," he said. "But based on what we are seeing, we do not see any other group moving. We set up checkpoints all over Metro Manila immediately and we have not detected any other group. So things are back to normal, the flights are normal also."

The day before the incident, as a political storm raged over attempts by opposition leaders to impeach the county's Supreme Court chief, Mrs. Arroyo vowed to quash any future grabs for power.