Malacanang, July 27, 2003 By Marichu Villanueva (Star) After several days of denials by Malacañang, President Arroyo admitted last night that a "small band of rogue junior officers" has conspired to overthrow her government.

Mrs. Arroyo said she ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to hunt down and arrest 50 junior officers and men who deserted their posts, bringing with them unspecified weapons.

"On my orders, the AFP and the (Philippine National Police) are hunting down to arrest a small band of rogue junior officers and soldiers who have deserted their posts and illegally brought weapons with them," the President said on national television last night.

She said these junior officers were "fugitives from military justice" who broke the military’s chain of command.

"This is an exercise doomed from the start. It has no moral cause. It violates the welfare of the people, aggravates their prevailing hardships and affects their jobs and livelihood," she said.

The President named only 10 of the "rogue officers," most of whom were from the Army Scout Rangers Regiment and the Navy’s Special Warfare Group (SWAG).

The officers were identified as 1st Lieutenants Laurence San Juan, Florentino Somera, Jose Enrico Demetrio Dingle and Warren Lee Dagupan; Captains Gerardo Gambala, Laurence Louis Somera, Milo Mastre Campo and Albert Baloloy; and Navy Lieutenants (senior grade) Antonio Trillanes IV and James Layug.

Ten other junior officers are also unaccounted for, AFP vice chief of staff Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia said, but the AFP had not released their names as of press time.

"They have broken the law," the President said. "They will be court-martialed."

AFP chief Gen. Narciso Abaya said "the Armed Forces and the chain of command express our loyalty to the Constitution and our democratic institutions and our solid support for our Commander-in-Chief."

He has also ordered the arrest of the junior officers, who are officially absent without leave and mostly from the Philippine Military Academy Classes of 1995, 1996 and 1997.

These junior officers, who are believed to be in Metro Manila, are armed and backed by "between 40-50 men" who are "fully armed and can do a lot of damage," Abaya told reporters at the Palace.

Abaya said the AWOL officers, once arrested, will be court martialed and charged with "mutiny" and "conspiracy to commit rebellion."

According to Garcia, as many as 90 junior officers were initially involved in the supposed coup plot, but most of them backed out.

"The AFP has discovered a plot by some rogue junior officers and soldiers to undermine the chain of command, break ranks and engage in an unconstitutional adventurist exercise," Abaya said.

Sources told The STAR that "several soldiers - who were not arrested - are being questioned for erroneous visions."

Garcia admitted the military had indeed received reports of a destabilization plot, but the AFP remained silent while verifying these reports.

The military eventually received confirmation when some junior officers called up their field commanders, saying they "have to burn bridges."

Military officails said some of the mutineers were bomb and demolition experts and they carted off with them high-powered firearms and 50 heavily-armed enlisted personnel, though they brought no body armor.

Garcia said the junior officers’ complaints were not real and the griping was merely a decoy for "a political component."

When asked which political group he was referring to, he replied "it may be the Estrada group."

Palace sources told The STAR that there were indications that the coup plot may also be linked to Sen. Gregorio Honasan.

Intelligence sources within the PNP told The STAR that this group of AWOL officers is now plotting high-profile assassinations and bombing run operations.

Another senior police officer said these disgruntled young military officers have been gypped by a former military officer now in the Senate, referring to Honasan, who, in the past months, has launched a moral recovery program within the AFP and PNP.

Meanwhile, deposed President Joseph Estrada brushed aside allegations that he may have had something to do with the alleged coup plot.

"How could I do that? I am here inside," Estrada told The STAR, referring to his detention cell at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.

Estrada belittled the source of the information.

"If it came from (Victor) Corpus, it has no credibility," he said.

Estrada likened the alleged coup plot to his ouster in January 2001 through a military-backed popular revolt.

"The trouble with them is they don’t like others to do what they did to me," he said.

Civil society groups deplored the coup plot in a statement released to media late last night. "We find this threat to democratic institutions by those sworn to defend them contemptible, especially since some of those behind it are the very same characters who set back our economy with the coup attempts of (1987) and (1989) that erased the gains of (the) EDSA (Revolution of 1986)."

As of 9:30 last night, members of the so-called civil society started gathering at the EDSA Shrine in Mandaluyong City to show their support for Mrs. Arroyo.

Opposition Sen. Gregorio Honasan, a former Army colonel who led several coup attempts against the Aquino administration, denied any hand in the reported coup plot vs Mrs. Arroyo.

"Bakit kami na naman (Why point to us again)?" Sen. Vicente Sotto III quoted Honasan — a leader of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement that led the coup attempts against Arroyo, as asking.

Sotto said Honasan and his wife Jane were not hiding but were in Batangas on vacation. Purveyors included

The Chief Executive said the government will "exact the maximum penalty for the purveyors of mutiny and rebellion," and warned "unscrupulous politicians who exploit the messianic complex of these rogue officers for their naked ambition."

Mrs. Arroyo, however, did not identify the politicians.

The President assured the public that she remains in "full control of the situation" after having already identified the leaders of the coup plot.

"In the spirit of dialogue and understanding, I have bent over backwards and listened to the legitimate grievances of some of our young officers, treating them as officers and gentlemen, imbued with honor and loyalty to the flag and the Constitution," the President said, referring to her dinner with some 100 junior military officers who are members of PMA Classes of 1994 and 1995 last week.

The President has called on the people to be "vigilant and denounce these misguided elements."

Her statements was issued after an emergency meeting of the Cabinet at Malacañang, which had been put under unusual heightened security, with armored personnel carriers (APCs) guarding all gates leading to the Palace.

Presidential Security Group (PSG) commander Col. Delfin Bangit put the entire Malacañang complex under red alert at 6 p.m.

According to Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo "was very composed as she met with top AFP officials and some Cabinet members" before going on the air to deliver her statements.

"Afterwards, (the President) went back to rehearse her State of the Nation Address (SONA) speech," he said.

US Embassy press officer Ron Post said Mrs. Arroyo is the legitimate president of the Philippines, affirming the support of the US government for the Arroyo administration earlier expressed by US President George W. Bush. Congress supports GMA

Meanwhile, Speaker Jose de Venecia said in a statement that "the leaders of Congress, representing the various political parties, affirm our commitment to Philippine democracy and our strong support for President Arroyo and the civil government in the country."

De Venecia cited the coup rumors that circulated over the week and said "the plot to destabilize the government has been uncovered and foiled by the Armed Forces." He added that "authorities are now tracking the conspirators, who have gone underground."

According to him, "this latest plot is timed on the eve of President Arroyo’s State of the Nation address, at which she will unveil economic, social and electoral reforms before our people."

"These misguided adventurers," he said, "will not find support among our peace-loving and democratic people. Wide ranging reforms, not self-proclaimed messiahs in fatigue uniforms, are what our people urgently need."

In his statement, the Speaker said, "we join the forces of civil society and church leaders of various denominations in condemning this plot."

The leaders of Congress, he added "pledge to join forces in resisting any move to destroy the institutions of our democracy."

AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero said five companies of army soldiers were transferred from Tanay, Rizal and Nueva Ecija province to the north, to camps in the capital.

He said they were on standby for "crowd control" duties on Monday when Arroyo delivers her state of the nation address, which draws protest rallies.

The President met with junior military officers, graduates of PMA classes 1994 and 1995 — With reports from Jaime Laude, Paolo Romero, Nikko Dizon, AFP, AP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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