MANILA, August 22, 2003 (STAR)  GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc  - PNP Chief Supt. Reynaldo Berroya says Sen. Gringo Honasan while in hiding is recruiting police and military officers for another coup strike. But AFP vice chief of staff Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia insists the plot has been crushed. They’re beginning to sound like the dove US State Secretary Colin Powell and the hawk Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld just before the Iraq assault. And like the contradicting US officials who ironically held the same intelligence findings, it’s because of differing assessments that lead to differing thrusts by Camps Crame and Aguinaldo.

"We have been getting reports that money is being offered," Berroya revealed Wednesday. "Persons identified with Honasan are going around, offering cash to the families of officers who will join the coup." He didn’t name names, but said the recruitment is particularly massive in Mindanao and Negros. Officers are being bought for P50,000 apiece. PNP intelligence men are verifying the fund sources for prosecution.

Berroya said Sen. Ping Lacson’s money-laundering smear against First Gentleman Mike Arroyo is part of the recruitment propaganda. "They’re very systematic," referring to Lacson and Honasan, classmates at the Philippine Military Academy. "(Lacson) is hoping to incite more officers to go against the government."

Berroya’s words didn’t sit well with military authorities. All but one of 222 officers, whose names appeared in computer diskettes left partially destroyed by the Oakwood Hotel holdouts last July 27, have been placed in the custody of their division commanders. The order of the day is to return to normalcy. Before the same reporters who interviewed Berroya, AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero pooh-poohed speculations of a rerun of the failed coup. "This is a campaign to disinform the public," he said, "this is aimed at sowing confusion and intrigue within the military ranks .... to weaken the morale of the troops."

Berroya knows whereof he speaks, however. He was once Honasan’s fellow-plotter to topple President Cory Aquino in 1986-89. After their failed power grab of August 1987, Honasan went into hiding while giving out press interviews, just like today. "His disappearance was part of our strategy," Berroya recalled. "We went into hiding and waited for what we called a second wave." That second coup attempt came in December 1987, but also failed. Berroya nonetheless saw the need to warn the public about a repeat of the past, just as PNP field units by policy warn their assigned communities about crime upsurge. He said the second strike is timed for late this month or September, but quickly added that Honasan has yet to recruit a substantial number of officers to join it.

Other PNP intelligence analysts believe Honasan’s refusal to surface is precisely aimed at capturing the imagination of foot soldiers and junior officers. Coupled with political agitation (though largely unsubstantiated) about widespread corruption in the military and civilian establishments, the ultimate goal is for a final strike against President Gloria Arroyo.

Despite the shared findings of intelligence agencies, the differeing analyses arise from their differing roles. NBI Dir. Reynaldo Wycoco said there is no reason for Honasan to remain in hiding. "The state of rebellion has been lifted, and there is no warrant for his arrest," he explained. What Honasan needs to face, though, is a justice department summons to a preliminary hearing of coup d’etat charges. "It’s set for next week, and he shouldn’t default on this chance to reply," Wycoco said, "otherwise the case will be filed in court without his side."

Like Berroya’s PNP, the NBI assists in bringing in the accused. Thus, Wycoco’s call: "Junior officers working for Honasan are now in custody. He should be man enough like them to answer the accusations. He should not be overacting."

AFP intelligence has it that Honasan continues to be, as he puts it, "inaccessible" because he can’t explain the failed coup to the financiers. The PNP had earlier traced the paraphernalia, rifles, ammunition and radios to houses of former President Joseph Estrada’s mistress Laarni Enriquez, son Jinggoy, and aide Ramon Cardenas. Vehicles used by foiled attackers at Sangley Point in Cavite are registered in the names of other children Jude and Jacky. Berroya said this week that Lacson, in a June meeting with Honasan and other political conspirators, had offered P30 million for the coup. "Even Honasan was surprised that Lacson has that kind of money but kept the information from the junior officers," he said, "lest they back out upon finding out he’d be part of the ruling junta."

Over at Camp Aguinaldo, some AFP generals worry that the custody of the coup participants is lax. Six Oakwood ringleaders are under strict watch at the compound of the Intelligence Service-AFP. But 64 others who surrendered with them on July 27 are merely confined to quarters in their Army, Navy and Air Force units. More so the hundreds of others listed in the recovered diskettes, who are now merely confined to camps in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. They have cellphones and access to each other, the generals aver, and could thus plot what Berroya’s feared second wave.

AFP chief Gen. Narciso Abaya explained the leniency towards the latter: "They didn’t join any blood compact or go to Oakwood, they voluntarily came forward for investigation and confinement, and they are repentant." Debriefings will determine who would be court-martialed or serve as witness. "They cannot leave pending investigation," Abaya stressed, "although I am confident they will not launch a second wave because they now know they were used (by politicians)."

That leaves to be seen, the generals say. At least four close aides of three high AFP officers are in the plotters’ list, and could have clouded the judgments of their bosses.

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Catch Sapol ni Jarius Bondoc, Saturday, 8 a.m., on DWIZ (882-AM).

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E-mail: jariusbondoc@workmail.com

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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