EDITORIAL: GMA REAPING PUBLICITY FOR 'STARTING DOWN' THAT MUTINY

Manila, July 30, 2003  BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven (Star) Let’s face it. The Sunday soldiers’ rebellion, which lasted just 20 hours or so, might have discomfited President Macapagal-Arroyo, but she’s now garnering big dividends for having surmounted it – and this without violence or bloodshed.

TIME Magazine yesterday (August 4 issue) had her colorfully posted as its cover girl, with the banner headline superimposed halfway down her portrait: CRISIS MANAGEMENT – Philippine President Gloria Arroyo Stares Down a Mutiny as She Mulls a Second Term.

Aha, a second term?

The internationally-circulated Financial Times of London (published simultaneously on three continents) ran a huge photo of her, four columns wide, standing up in her blue terno at her SONA, with Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Joe de Venecia flanking her, and a military aide in gold-braided cap and dress-white ducks behind her. The flattering caption said: "Standing firm: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Philippine president, receives applause after delivering her annual state of the nation address in Manila. Mrs. Macapagal vowed to use the full force of the law against officers and the ‘political component’ involved in last weekend’s failed mutiny."

The article itself, on page 6, carried another immense photo of GMA, smiling as she greeted legislators, while its headline declared: Macapagal Vows to Find Cause of Rebellion.

What she’d like to find, most believe, is that former President Erap Estrada and former RAMrod, Senator Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan, were the ones who incited the young military rebels to stage their Oakwood Escapade. But it’s early days yet.

What about the demand of the putschists that Defense Secretary Angelo T. Reyes, ISAFP Military Intelligence Chief, Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus (a former New People’s Army rebel commander), and Philippine National Police Director General Hermogenes "Jun" Ebdane be relieved, or booted out?

In any event, let the good times roll!

The Financial Times editorial, entitled Gloria’s Game Plan urges that "post-mutiny, the Philippines president needs to get tough".

The FT editors, in rhyme with TIME, commented that "…there was a notable omission from the president’s speech: she failed to confirm her promise not to stand for a second term in next year’s election." (She didn’t even, as Cory did in her final address, assert it was her "last SONA".)

The Financial Times wasn’t unsympathetic to the idea. It said that "it is understandable that she wants to stay. She is bringing the budget deficit under control. She will have served only half a normal six-year term after moving from the vice presidency to the top job when Mr. Estrada was deposed in 2001. And there is no obvious candidate to replace her."

Now, that’s interesting. The FT concludes though in a hectoring mode: "Mrs. Macapagal, however, will be more effective in the year ahead if she tackles corruption in the armed forces and reforms the economy without having to yield to the country’s innumerable special interest groups during the election campaign. What is more, she may come to be admired – rather than just tolerated – by Filipinos."

Wow! Her propagandists couldn’t have asked for more.

* * *

The editorial of the rightwing FT was not all sunshine and roses. It lampooned us Pinoys by averring that "Filipinos are passionate in equal measure about politics and show business, which may be why they are so tolerant of those who excel at both. Imelda Marcos, extravagant wife of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is today a prominent figure in the country that her husband plundered. Joseph Estrada, the flamboyant action film star elected and then deposed as president, is awaiting the outcome of his corruption trial in a comfortable hospital wing, where he is nursing a knee problem.

"The latest showmen to enjoy the indulgence of officialdom and public opinion in the Philippines are the 300 soldiers who staged a mutiny in the capital. Rumors of an impending rebellion against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had been circulating for days before they seized control of an expensive hotel and wired it with explosives.

"After 20 hours of televised demands and negotiations, the men returned to their barracks without a shot being fired. The damage, however, had already been done. Investor confidence in emerging Asian economies has been further undermined just as the region was starting to recover from the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. And the tolerance shown to the mutineers so far means there is little to stop soldiers performing a similar prank the next time they want to air their grievances."

As usual, when editorial writers view situations from a far remove of thousands of miles away, they think that every other country is like Lilliput, or some Ruritania of the Prisoner of Zenda variety. The 296 young officers – who staged that hopeless "coup" attempt the FT finds so comical, I saw during the four hours of negotiations we held with them inside the Oakwood – were willing to die (they had seen many of their comrades die on the battlefield owing as much to corruption in the military and lack of bullets, equipment, and logistical support, as to the skill and treachery of their insurgent foes).

You have to look an adversary or mutineer in the eye, from pistol’s range, before you can begin to gauge what’s in his soul. This we did last Sunday. In the end, reason not kamikaze recklessness prevailed. The young putschists surrendered, "without firing a shot". Sounds laughable in retrospect, now that the danger’s past. But it was a near thing, I’ll testify.

Now those young hotheads (their idealism and smoldering resentment fanned and exploited by older officers as high-ranking as you can imagine, it will later be revealed) will be sneered at as having "caved in" without a fight. The truth is that they will not be treated with kid gloves. This was not the deal. They bravely and voluntarily submitted themselves to the "Articles of War". They asked only that their men be treated with leniency and reinstatement.

Do you know what the Articles of War in this country dictate? As the government, their Armed Forces service chiefs, and the investigating officers decide, these Articles authorize the holding of a court martial, long imprisonment, and, in the extreme, death by musketry.

These misguided young fellows weren’t malevolent mutineers, but men who had fought for their country, and were disillusioned with military corruption. Alas, many of the President’s own top brass, though they tell her different, probably knew about their disappointment and "plotting" every step of the way – and could have nipped things in the bud – but instead let them proceed to their inevitable collision with destiny.

GMA, in the end, may discover she has been served ill by some of those she trusted.

* * *

One of the most obvious of the group, whose activities were so detectable over the past two years, was the handsome, very bright, and very high-profile spokesman of the mutineers, Navy 1st Lt. Senior Grade Antonio Trillanes IV. He had written dissertations as early as August 2001 charging awful corruption in the military.

Trillanes, who comes from two generations of military men, was "on detail" to pursue further studies in the University of the Philippines in pursuit of a Master’s in Public Administration. In recent weeks, it was subsequently discovered, he had not been going to school.

He had been helping plan and mobilize the putsch. Anywhere along the way, senior officers and military intelligence, headed – let’s not forget – by the same Victor Corpus, could have alerted the President as to the build-up of forces of this young group – but why did they choose to turn a blind eye to it instead of squelching it before it gathered steam? Did they intend to use the destabilizing agenda of the troublemakers to bolster their own personal agendas? The dangerous games power-seekers play may yet be the undoing of this Republic.

The Financial Times did concede that President GMA didn’t plan to go easy on the military rebels. Citing her SONA, the newspaper reported: "The mutineers, Mrs. Macapagal said, were ‘rogues’ who had to go to jail. Their allegations, meanwhile, would be investigated. One complaint, that the army sold weapons to the Islamic terrorists it was supposed to be fighting, has a basis in fact. A second, suggesting that a ‘terrorist’ bomb was in fact planted by the military to solicit more anti-terrorist funding from the US, would be shocking if proved true."

I don’t believe even a corrupt military brass would go that far, but why prejudge the coming investigation? Let it be conducted.

* * *

What bothers me is that the mutineers’ complaints about "conversion" may be swept under the rug – because it has involved too many retired and serving generals, and admirals down to commodores, over the past two decades. I have been writing against this pernicious racket so euphemistically called "conversion" for the past 15 years. It has not been stamped out. In truth, hardly dented.

"Conversion" sounds cute, but it means that hundreds of millions of pesos, nay, billions, over many years have been spent from already meager military budgets to pay for "ghost deliveries" of weapons, equipment, ammunition, helmets, shoes, and other stuff which were never delivered – and had never been intended to be delivered. As much as 20 to 30 percent of the budget used to be stolen through this "conversion" and the money pocketed by officers, some of whom became insanely rich.

One retired officer, for instance, immensely wealthy from disaster relief budgets (it’s part of the military’s responsibility in times of disaster), owns a posh golf course among other sleek properties, plus millions tucked under the mattress or some untraceable bank account. Another has four luxury houses in a plush subdivision. The list of such perpetrators is long.

The items not delivered have cost our men in combat dearly in terms of lives, suffering, and misery. The money plundered has deprived our armed services of the tools they need to fight, as well as even survive. "Conversion" is not merely a crime and a disgraceful scam – it has become a chronic habit, corrupting so many who go up the ladder of promotion enmeshed in a climate of corruption, cynicism and mounting avarice.

Those mutineers were wrong in what they did. Their effort, their sacrifice, might even prove futile.

ON MANNY'S DEATH

The death of former Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez is both poignant and sad. Manny, as everybody called him, succumbed Sunday night in the Asian Hospital at the age of 87, and his passing signaled the end of an era. He was one of the last of the Men of Magsaysay who had forged a Grand Alliance with the late President Diosdado Macapagal, which everyone hoped would finally slay the Dragon of political corruption.

This was not to be. Pelaez lost his bid for Presidential nomination in the Nacionalista Party convention in the Manila Hotel in 1965 – to Ferdinand E. Marcos (who had just somersaulted into the NP from the Liberal Party). The rest is history. Manny lost his bid because, like a true idealist and romantic, he trusted too much. In the competition among the newly-arrived Marcos (smuggled into the party by the Laurels, Pepito and Doy), Vice-President Fernando Lopez, Senator Gil Puyat and Pelaez, a "gentleman’s agreement" had been forged under which all of the contenders pledged themselves not to buy delegates’ votes. Soon enough, however, his leaders rushed over to Manny to report that Macoy and Imelda had begun buying votes right and left.

"But there’s a gentleman’s agreement!" Pelaez had exclaimed. His followers urged him to start spending the money supporters had donated for his campaign, contained in two suitcases in his room upstairs. (I hope I report this accurately, since I must rely on faulty memory.)

No, Manny had resolutely replied: "I would rather be right than be President." He was right. He didn’t become President. Marcos and Superma’am, it seems, had cannily bought many delegates’ "second ballot", even if the de-legates had been committed to give their "first ballot" to one of the other candidates. In the run-off second balloting, Marcos romped off with the Nacionalista Party nomination.

Then he went on to beat the incumbent President Macapagal, by what means I’ll leave to your imagination. Macoy was sworn in as President in December 1965 – the beginning of 20 years of rule which turned into martial law despotism.

Did Manny Pelaez, by his uprightness, become the epitome of the skeptical expression, "Nice guys finish last"? In his case, this is what happened.

Manny went on to serve the people, but he never got the opportunity, as he deserved, to rise to higher office. He survived an assassination attempt – an ambush of his car which killed his driver, and left him with a bullet in the lung. As he was being carried out on a stretcher from the scene, Manny saw the Quezon City Police Chief, General Tomas Karingal, and exclaimed in anguish: "General, what is happening to our country?" The unfortunate police chief had no reply to this – and, by a stroke of irony, was himself gunned down in a restaurant, months later, by an assassin.

A grateful nation can only salute Manny Pelaez for his constancy, decency, and idealism! His principled years of service in the House and Senate, and the lesson of nobility he tried to teach us all, will surely be rewarded by our Father in heaven.

"Good night, Sweet Prince! May flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest!"

Reforming the AFP (Star) 07/30/2003

Share prices tumbled and the peso continued its slide following the mutiny in Makati last Sunday. Yesterday Britain joined other countries in reminding their citizens against traveling to the Philippines. The economic fallout from that one day of military adventurism will be felt by the nation long after its misguided leader has made a career change, as he had announced before the soldiers gave up their hopeless escapade.

Before the career change, Navy Lt. Senior Grade Antonio Trillanes IV will have to face a court martial together with the other leaders of that mutiny. That much has to be made clear to the soldiers of this weak Republic: mutiny does not pay. Otherwise the nation will see another succession of "coup attempts" launched by military crybabies whose idea of reforming society is by causing maximum destabilization.

This is no longer 1986, when Filipinos felt all their institutions had failed them, and the only recourse was to take to the streets. When a coup hatched by a group of soldiers was discovered and aborted by the Marcos regime, the people took it upon themselves to protect the soldiers from harm. This isn’t even 2001, when civilians sick of corruption and who felt betrayed by the Senate revolted first before the military and police top brass announced their withdrawal of support from the president. The mutiny in Makati lacked support from the people, the majority of military units or even the opposition. This may be a weak Republic, but institutions are still working. If the mutineers believed they were launching EDSA 1986 redux, they were victims of their own naiveté.

Even as the government finds the appropriate punishment for the mutiny’s leaders, however, this event should hasten efforts to modernize and reform the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Apart from weeding out the corrupt and incompetent, there should be a serious effort to change the mindset of young officers who develop a messianic complex from long hours spent caressing their guns, officers who think they have the right to hold a nation hostage to their bellyaching.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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