MAX SOLIVEN: TAMA NA, ENOUGH DRAMA ALREADY; PROBES ARE NOT TALKATHONS

MANILA, August 18, 2003 (STAR)  BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven  - Everybody, it can be said, has had his (or her) say. The investigating commissioners, the congressmen, senators, accused mutineers and putschists – the Oakwood Five plus Five – and every kibitzer, including many of us in the media.

Don’t you think these teledramas telenobelas, talk-fest, military psy-warfare orgies, legal nitpicking, national breastbeasting, fingerpointing, and litanies of warning messages have gone on long enough? It’s time to strive to return to normalcy, and go back to work.

The President, Her Beleaguered Majesty GMA, has lived up to her reputation as the Queen of Taray, from scolding subsequent Putschist Sonny Trillanes IV when he went to see her in Malacañang last July 13 (he was rude, too) to snapping at TV and print journalists who dared interview and give "publicity" to that nasty fugitive, Gringo Honasan, et cetera. She’s been angry at this writer many times before, but, hey, we all should give her some slack. La Presidenta isn’t having a good time of it, still under pressure from friends even more than enemies, and having to look over her shoulder constantly at potential disloyalty in the military ranks, and among her own favorite people in the charmed circle which surrounds her.

Even from within her own Presidential Security Group, there surfaced one of the putschists, although the Oakwood core leader (Marine Capt. Gary Alejano) swore he never intended to harm her, much less "assassinate" her. Every President surely remembers what happened to India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (slain by her own Sikh guards) or to South Korean President Park Chung Hee (the latter shot to death in the Blue House) by his own chief of intelligence and security.

So, let’s not blame GMA, who was never one from the inception to conceal her pique on even more trivial occasions, for now being pikon or irritable, even unreasonable, in these trying times. It’s easy to lecture her on the importance of keeping her cool, and being nice to us in the media even when we irritate her. But she’s in the hot seat, while we’re behind the cameras, not in their focus.

* * *

Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Narciso L. Abaya rang me up yesterday to assert that he had read portions of the former Abu Sayyaf hostage, Mrs. Gracia Burnham’s book, In the Presence of My Enemies, but not enough of the volume to discuss it during last Friday’s Senate hearing when questioned by Senator Serge Osmeña. We spoke at length about the Oakwood rebellion/mutiny, then I learned that Abaya was scheduled to testify again next Wednesday when the House of Representatives’ Defense Committee, under Rep. Prospero Pichay, resumes its "inquiry" into the July 27th affair.

Don’t you think it’s time to wind up those endless investigations by both House and Senate? Congress is not the Detective Bureau. It is not the brief of our solons to get to the bottom of any plot or conspiracy, and winkle out who pushed those Magdalo boys to rebellion and who financed them. For heaven’s sake, they’re legislators, not coup-trackers or G-men out to unmask traitors. Remember the disgraceful Lamitan incident in Basilan in which the murderous Abus were able to get away from the "ring of steel" looped around them by the military? The Senate Defense committee under Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. called for the "court martial" of three officers, from a general to a captain. In contrast, the House committee under Pichay "cleared" the military officers accused.

Sus, nothing happened! Abaya told me yesterday that the Armed Forces "investigated", found the two superior officers "okay", and are still questioning the captain. Sus, that inquiry has been kept quiet as a mouse. A whitewash? Or are our military investigators deliberately snoring away? It’s clear there were never any formal "court martial" proceedings in that sordid matter.

In the case of the Oakwood mutineers/coupsters, there had better be a court martial or military justice conducted with dispatch, impartiality, and genuine toughness. No fifty push-ups given as "punishment" as in the Manila Hotel "putsch" – remember that one so long ago, when General Tabako was in charge? – which ended up a comedy? In those days, the Marcos Loyalist officers and men who tried to overthrow the still-wobbly Cory government and install Macoy’s vice presidential running mate, Senator Turing Tolentino as "President", didn’t even bother to check into the Manila Hotel, unlike the Magdalo putschists, some of whom, including Maestrecampo and Gambala, had checked into the luxury Oakwood apartment-hotel. Up to now, I’m not sure whether they paid in cash or by credit card.

Incidentally, some of the officers who led that long-ago Tolentino "coup" are now high-ranking in the military and the Philippine National Police. Sometimes we don’t have coups, only Laugh-Ins, or Slumber Parties. The trouble is that, often enough, they end up with blood on the ground.

* * *

The 20-hour Magdalo caper looks comic today because there was neither bloodshed nor damage done. Nobody remembers that if anybody had tripped over the wrong wire, or put a foot wrong, or provoked either side, the entire place might have ended up in shambles.

For that matter, there were so many postwar "heroes" after the Japanese were driven out of Manila and the Philippines in 1945 that even collaborators and quislings got war medals, military commissions and honors, while thousands of fake guerrillas queued up for "backpay" from the American armed forces.

It’s important to point out that such hi-jinks are not confined to the Philippines, since we self-deprecating and self-destructive Pinoys and Pinays suffer from that incurable "Only in the Philippines" syndrome.

Look at the United States. They were talking bleakly about the problem of restoring electric power to Baghdad, when suddenly their most urgent problem was to restore power to New York City – and 50 million people in America and Canada, suddenly plunged into darkness. (What? There were no jelly fish either in Niagara Falls, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, nor in New Jersey or New York Harbor.)

As New Yorkers sweltered in 90-degree Fahrenheit heat, they found no sympathy in Baghdad where they’re melting in 136-degree Fahrenheit – nor do they have air-conditioners while in France, by government admission, 3,000 persons died from weeks of heat-wave.

Everybody’s got troubles all over. Murphy’s Law is international – and things do go wrong at the worst possible time.

In the US, too, there will be a congressional investigation of what went wrong in the Power Outage, or Outrage. As for the current House probe, it will make sense only if what our congressmen investigate is how meager the budget allocated to our armed forces is – and finally boost defense spending, and police improvement, in the national budget.

It doesn’t make sense for our soldiers (as the mutineers griped) to go into combat with holes in their combat boots, holes in their ponchos, then return to barracks with holes in the roof, unless they’re on missions which have them catching forty winks in the rain and mud, or under the bleak stars at night.

It makes even less sense when you recall that members of the House of Representatives (by Speaker Joe de Venecia’s own reckoning) get P65 million a year in "pork barrel", while in the upper chamber it’s even more fantastic – Senators receive P200 million apiece per year in pork barrel funding. Sanamagan: They don’t even need "conversion" to get rich, or at least look rich.

This is not to glamorize the complaints of the mutineers. It’s the same old story, put forward by two generations of soldiers. The tragedy is that nothing has been done about it.

* * *

Is the period of military instability over? I’m the type who would like to pooh-pooh coup talk, and downgrade fears about military rebellions, but this time, delving deeper into the matter, it appears the Oakwood rebels were so few because many others failed to "join" as they had promised, or faded back into the woodwork.

Service and field commanders over the past week have been going all over the archipelago conducting low-key investigations, and "pepping up" the morale of those in the outer perimeters. The President and her crew of Cabineteers must have a care: If they don’t handle this right – who knows? – the next one could be more explosive on the Richter scale.

Yesterday, I had coffee at the Club Filipino with one of our fellow Oakwood negotiators, Col. Danilo L. Lim, now the commanding officer of the elite Scout Rangers. Danny had just returned from an inspection tour of Scout Ranger units in their farflung assignments, from the Compostela Valley to Sultan Kudarat, Basilan and Zamboanga, in Mindanao, as well as Camarines Sur and Albay (in Bicol). Don’t forget, there were 60 Scout Rangers officers and men in the Oakwood "roster", led by Ranger Captains Milo Maestrecampo and Gerardo Gambala of PMA ’95, both weighed down with combat medals and battle experience in Mindanao and elsewhere.

On the other hand, Lim – a former RAM-SFP-YOU putschist himself (who led, along with Col. Rafael "Baby" Galvez and Major Abe Purugganan) the Rangers who occupied Makati’s hotel district and financial mile for almost a week in December 1989) – cannot be blamed for the July 27 defection of those Rangers. He had taken over command only last July 24, 2003.

He reported to me that every Scout Ranger in the headquarters in Camp Tecson (San Miguel, Bulacan) is present and accounted for. (There are 2,300 Scout Rangers in this man’s Army.)

"None of our Scout Rangers from Camp Tecson," Danny assured me, "had joined the mutiny."

Most of the Scout Rangers who did had come from Mindanao, or had been assigned in Metro Manila – such as Maestrecampo (or was it Gambala?) who had been taking up a Master’s in the University of Sto. Tomas. Don’t confuse them with Trillanes, who had been working for his Master’s in public administration in the University of the Philippines. (After all, remember that the late leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Ustadz Hashim Salamat, had been a Cairo scholar and a librarian!)

"If the men in Camp Tecson had joined the mutiny," Lim pointed out, "it would have been a formidable force of rebels. At the time, we had two companies based there, totaling about 160 men, plus officers and men undertaking special classes, totaling 300 ‘students.’ But the Scout Rangers, in Camp Tecson, who were being urged to join the conspiracy refused to take part."

That’s what Danny assured this writer yesterday. We reminisced over the December 1989 coup which had truly destabilized the country and damaged the Cory Aquino administration. Danny said that the earlier intention of his Scout Ranger group had not been to occupy the hotel district, but merely seize control of Fort Bonifacio and Villamor. However, when they did so, the government began counter-attacking with aircraft.

"The solution according to our training was to take the high ground," Danny explained. "We realized that the highest ground in our area were the hotel buildings, apartments, and office high-rises in Makati."

He recalls that it was on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, when his Scout Rangers finally gave up their December 1 to 8th occupation of that high-profile portion of Makati. They had negotiated with late General Arturo "Boy" Enrile (then superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy, later AFP chief of staff) and other government negotiators, who included Maj. General Edilberto Adan, at that time a captain, the original "return to barracks "formula".

In effect, it was the precedent of the formula advanced by Ambassador, former Chief of Staff, Roy Cimatu at the Oakwood last July 27 – with that "return to barracks" and Articles of War agreement. The December 1989 deal had been even more colorful and bizarre. Lim had insisted that his Scout Rangers march back to barracks with their weapons intact, and their flags flying, then surrender their weapons "back in barracks" in Fort Bonifacio. Their march to surrender down Ayala Avenue – would you believe? – looked like a victory parade. I was there, watching it that day – (I confess) – almost in disbelief.

Anyway, Colonel Danny Lim (PMA ’77, West Point ’78) vows he’s a changed man. When I look him in the eye, as we did in 1989, I say to myself: Not really. Anyway, not completely. There’s still that fire in the eye we noted in that angry young officer from Nueva Vizcaya (a genuine Saluyot). He’s now, of course, wholeheartedly in the service of the government. Yet, didn’t they call themselves in those old putschist days the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), the Soldiers of the Filipino People (SFP), and the organization Lim headed YOU (Young Officers’ Union)?

The RAMboys pledged that "our dreams will never die", but now they’re at each other’s throats with daggers and venomous accusations and counter-accusations. As for Lim’s YOU dreamers, they’re no longer as young and pimply, but they’re still in there, soldiering.

In his book, The Edge of the Sword, General Charles de Gaulle, Liberator, then President of France, wrote a magnificent and candid piece on "The Virtues of the Soldier" in which he, too, retailed the soldier’s vices, and the dangers poised by his messianic complex.

Someday, I’ll have occasion to quote it in full, as it deserves, but De Gaulle’s pointed question in that essay was: "Can we imagine life without force?" De Gaulle’s answer was: No. This is, he argued, not only because human nature does not change, but because ambition and passion are as necessary to noble projects as base ones. "The virtues of the soldier," he insisted, "are an integral part of man’s inheritance."

Winston Churchill disliked De Gaulle, and once remarked that "the heaviest cross we had to bear was the Cross of Lorraine" (De Gaulle’s Free French symbol, derived from Joan of Arc).

Yet, De Gaulle bravely and stubbornly carried that Cross of Lorraine, in memory of La Pucelle and the glory of France, to the Liberation of his beloved Paris.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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