U.S. OFFICIALS UNAWARE DONATED ANTI-TERROR ARMS USED IN MUTINY

Manila, July 30, 2003 By Paolo Romero (Star) American officials are unaware that US-made weapons worth millions of dollars and given to the Philippines to fight terrorists were used in Sunday’s failed attempt of mutinous troops to force the resignation of President Arroyo.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Narciso Abaya said at least three rebel soldiers from the US-trained, 90-man Light Reaction Company (LRC) had taken sophisticated weapons and equipment from their unit’s armory.

These included night vision goggles, sophisticated scopes and thermal scanners, explosives, M1A4 carbines, Barret sniper rifles, and other types of high-powered sniper and assault weapons.

US Embassy spokeswoman Karen Kelley said once weapons and equipment are turned over to the Philippines, the US government no longer has any control over them.

LRC troops were trained and equipped by the US Armed Forces as elite anti-terrorist soldiers during last year’s Balikatan at a cost of P1 million per head.

Two more LRCs are being created and their members trained in Zamboanga City and Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija.

The training and outfitting of LRC troops are part of a US military assistance program to the Philippines agreed upon between the two governments during Mrs. Arroyo’s visit to Washington in November 2001.

Meanwhile, Abaya said mutinous troops, who occupied the posh Oakwood Premier Ayala Center apartment building and Glorietta Mall in Makati’s central business district, had planned to raid the Navy’s armory at Fort San Felipe, Cavite City.

Abaya said the arsenal at the Naval Sea Systems Command (Nascom) was one of several armories that the rebel soldiers had planned to raid.

"We received intelligence reports to the effect that they will be raiding armories so we did precautionarymeasures," he said.

"I have ordered the collection of extra firearms in several armories. I have those recalled early Saturday night," Abaya added.

Commander Geronimo Malabanan, Navyspokesman, said that at about 3 a.m. Sunday, a Mazda, a Mitsubishi L-300 and a Besta vans were found abandoned in front of the Nascom armory inside Fort San Felipe.

"They could have planned to cart away the M-16 and M-14 rifles stored at the Nascom armory and the armory at the nearby Sangley Point," he said. Malabanan said the raiders could have abandoned their plan and left in haste as one of the vans even had its key in the ignition.

Also found inside the abandoned vans were an empty duffel bag, a Pershing cap and an empty ammunition bandoleer, he added. Malabanan did not say who were the registered owners of the three vans. Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes said yesterdaythe failed mutiny was "well-funded" as expensive communications equipment were found in several rooms at the 18th floor of Oakwood.

"We don’t even have these equipment in our inventory," he said. "We will eventually have these when we (Armed Forces) modernize. Meaning, they (mutineers) got to use these equipment first."

The price of the handheld radios and radio transceivers was estimated at P1.6 million, he added.

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces is finalizing the composition of the special task force that would conduct the pre-trial investigation of the 296 officers and men who took part in the failed mutiny.

Lt. Gen. Libradio Ladia, Armed Forces inspector general, will lead the special task force and he will be assisted by 10 teams from the Army, Navy and the Air Force.

Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero, Armed Forces spokesman, said the pre-trial investigation to be conducted by the task force is equivalent to a preliminary investigation in a civilian court.

"The findings of the task force will determine the gravity of the involvement of the 296 soldiers, 70 of whom are officers in the mutiny," he said.

"The court martial will be done after the pre-trial investigation. The result of this pre-trial investigation will determine the organization of the court martial."

The officers and men involved in the mutiny will be charged under the Articles of War, the "military’s equivalent of the Revised Penal Code," he added.

The five officers who have taken full responsibility for the mutiny, Navy Lieutenants (senior grade) Antonio Trillanes IV and James Layug, and Army Captains

Gerardo Gambala, Milo Maestrecampo and Gary Alejano will face a general court martial in accordance with Commonwealth Act 408.

The rest of those involved will be subjected to Article of War 67 (mutiny) under the Disciplinary Powers of Commanding Officers.

Sources said Trillanes, Layug, Gambala, Maestrecampo and Alejano are undergoing tactical interrogation at the headquarters of the Intelligence Service Armed Forces of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Meanwhile, Eriberto Varona, government arsenal director at the Department of National Defense, branded as "a big lie" yesterday the allegations of the mutinous junior officers that military officials have been selling arms and ammunition to communist rebels and secessionists in Mindanao.

"This is a big, big lie," he said in a statement.

"As director of the arsenal since January 2000, please allow me to state for the information of the Filipino citizenry that we at your government arsenal have never done this nor will we do this."

Varona said the selling of arms and ammunition to rebels could not be possible because these are transferred under heavy security from the arsenal to the Armed Forces Logistic Command.

"Please be informed that the government arsenal produces only small arms and ammunition for the Armed Forces of the Philippines," he said.

"The ammunition thus produced are hauled by the AFP’s Logistics Command under heavy security. AFPLC, in turn, distributes these items in accordance with the allocation of general headquarters."

But the National Democratic Front (NDF) has reiterated that the New People’s Army (NPA) has been getting its firearms, ammunition and military equipment from corrupt military officials.

"The NPA and other revolutionary groups have long been buying firearms, ammunitions and other military equipment from corrupt officials of the AFP," said Jorge Madlos alias Ka Orisí, NDF-Mindanao spokesman.

"This corruption within the AFP is just a reflection of the rottenness of the GMA administration."

Madlos said the Arroyo administration must take seriously the legitimate grievances of the mutinous junior military officers.

"The assembly of idealist soldiers also exposed the rottenness of AFP," he said

Madlos said the exposé of the young officers proves that the Arroyo administration and the US government had masterminded the bombings in Davao City and other places in Mindanao.

"It was first exposed that the US military is behind the bombings when a US Central Intelligence Agency agent Michael Merring accidentally exploded a bomb inside an inn in Davao City," he said. The government had not investigated the matter, he added.

On the other hand, Trillanes’ mother Estelita Trillanes, could only hope that her son would be given a fair trial.

"After all, they did not exactly threaten the government. They were just airing their grievances," she said. — With reports from Mike Frialde, Bong Fabe, Ann Corvera


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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