Malacanang, August 7, 2003 (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva  - Due process but not "unwarranted leniency."

This was President Arroyo’s tough stand on the fate of soldiers involved in a military uprising against her government last month.

The President yesterday told finance ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), who were in town for a two-day meeting, that justice would be enforced this time to prevent a repeat of the mistakes of the past when "unwarranted leniency" was extended to soldiers behind the failed coup attempts against former President Corazon Aquino.

Mrs. Arroyo issued the statement as military investigators recommended the court-martial of 45 officers for mutiny and sedition.

Military vice chief Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia said Armed Forces Inspector General Librado Ladia had determined there was probable cause to charge the 45 officers with mutiny and sedition and for disrespecting the President.

Ladia’s recommendation has not yet been submitted to Armed Forces chief Gen. Narciso Abaya, but the AFP chief is expected to approve it, Garcia said.

If convicted by a military court, the officers face life imprisonment and dismissal from service, he said. Junior officers and men who took part in the 21-hour siege in Makati’s financial district on July 27 also face the same sanctions.

Officials alleged the mutiny formed part of a larger plot involving politicians to install a junta in Mrs. Arroyo’s place.

In a speech to open the two-day ASEAN meeting, Mrs. Arroyo said that military adventurism remained a problem because soldiers who launched a spate of deadly coup attempts a generation earlier had gotten away with murder.

"Because laws have been violated and the Constitution has been threatened, we can assure due process but not unwarranted leniency," she said.

The resurgence of mutinies, she stressed, can be traced in part to a reluctance to enforce justice against military adventurism.

The Aquino administration — itself installed in power in February 1986 by a military-backed popular revolt — foiled seven military rebellions in the late 1980s that left hundreds of Filipinos dead, many of them civilians.

The Arroyo administration has accused the leader of the 1980s coup attempts, opposition Sen. Gregorio Honasan, of leading the latest mutiny. The former Army colonel denies the charge and has gone into hiding.

"We have learned our lessons and we will not allow the duly constituted political authority to be held hostage by a few men-at-arms. Civilian authority will never be forced to act upon any grievances at the end of a gun, especially those that are already being acted upon," the President said.

She assured officials from ASEAN members Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam that it’s "business continues as usual" in the Philippines despite the failed rebellion.

"We are consolidating our position rapidly," she said.

With criminal charges lodged and an independent inquiry looking into the root causes of military restiveness, she said "it is fitting that the din of recriminations pipe down and give way to sobriety and prudence."

In his daily press briefing at Malacañang yesterday, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye refuted allegations by mutineers that Mrs. Arroyo had "betrayed" the five-point commitments given them by government negotiators headed by retired Armed Forces chief Roy Cimatu.

Bunye said there was no commitment on the part of the President to spare the mutineers from the coverage of the civilian courts for the crime of coup being charged against the 321 junior officers and enlisted men who joined the July 27 siege.

Aside from being covered by the Articles of War where they would be tried by a court martial, the mutineers also agreed to accept the consequences of their acts, Bunye pointed out.

"There was a provision in that agreement that the officers are willing to face all the consequences of their action. So, I think that’s the controlling factor there. I don’t think they have reason to complain," Bunye explained.

The ASEAN meeting is being held at a hotel a block away from the site of the Makati siege.

ASEAN secretary general Ong Keng Yong said that along with the deadly terrorist blast in Jakarta on Tuesday, the Manila mutiny had dampened investor confidence.

"What is in the minds of the ministers is that all these little things add up to the unease among the foreign investors and businessmen," Ong said.

"To the people in America or in Europe, whether it is the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore, it is Southeast Asia and so they all shy away from the region," Ong added.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, noted with satisfaction that the Finance Ministers’ attendance in the ASEAN gathering here is an expression of their government’s confidence and trust in the way the Philippine government handled the crisis.

"We have proven time and again, democracy remains the best underpinning of our financial and economic fundamentals, here and throughout the region," she said.

"The Asian crisis has faded away. Reforms in the banking and corporate governance are in full swing. We, in the ASEAN, are ready to regain our former position among the fastest growing regions in the world," she vowed.

Mrs. Arroyo exhorted the ASEAN Finance Ministers to prepare the region for recovery after the crisis from the recently concluded war in Iraq and the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

"Collective action from our side is necessary to ensure that the growth is sustainable. The financial and economic policies common to the region must address the emerging concerns of ASEAN," she said. — With AFP, Marichu Villanueva, Mike Frialde

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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