| Australian ambassador to the Philippines, Ruth Pearce, leaves the condominium seized by the rebels. (AFP)
Kuala Lumpur, July 27 (Agencies): The six Indian families staying in the besieged hotel apartment complex in Manila were jolted out of their beds in the wee hours today when renegade Philippines army officers rebelling against President Gloria Arroyo surrounded the building.
“It was a very nightmarish experience. It’s something like you see in the movies and you can’t imagine it would happen to you,” said Anubha Gupta, whose husband Sanjay took a call just after 4 am (local time) telling him the rebels were reported to be in the Oakwood apartments.
“It was something like you hear happening in Chechnya or somewhere like that. It was very surreal and at that moment you just do things automatically, without thinking, and we didn’t realise all that we had done until we safely reached the new hotel,” the Calcutta-born mother of two said over phone from Manila.
After taking the call from colleagues, Sanjay made repeated calls to the managers of the plush service apartments in Manila’s posh Makati neighbourhood, only to be told there was nothing happening. However, they finally they admitted there was a problem. “They were probably in the midst of negotiations so I can understand their situation, and they must have wanted everyone to remain calm,” said Sanjay.
Sandeep Gupta, an executive with a US pharmaceutical firm who arrived in Manila just 10 days earlier with his wife and three children from Hong Kong, got a call from his neighbour Sanjay at about 4.30 am.
The two men and the members of the other four Indian families in the complex stayed in touch, swapping information gleaned from colleagues outside. From the window of the apartment, Gupta said he could see about 25 soldiers inside the complex. “Just outside my door there were two rebels, and they were very polite. They alleged: ‘We are here to expose the connection between the government and corruption, and there won’t be any harm done to you’.”
Surrounded by government forces, the men, mostly in their 20s, also had plans to wire up the complex with explosives. But they were very polite and they apologised, said Anubha. As we were leaving, they said: “Sorry that we scared you”.
Her four and seven year-old kids remained unaware of drama. Their nightmare lasted for around five hours as arrangements were made to evacuate the building and they were put aboard five buses to be shifted to another hotel. Anubha said she and the family left with one change of clothes, their nightwear and passports. “If they don’t bomb the place our belongings are safe out there”.
Navrekha Sharma, Indian ambassador to the Philippines, said that “all the six Indian families staying in the Oakwood apartments which is in the area cordoned off by the army, have been escorted out of the hotel and are staying in other hotels away from the area.”