POSTSCRIPT / May 19, 2002 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Palace need not invent ‘peaceful coup’ theory

UNWARRANTED DEFENSE: Press Secretary Silvestre Afable better stop commenting on the coup d’etat charge filed days ago against several generals before he gets himself and his boss the President unnecessarily entangled in the debate.

Since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is not an accused, there is no need to defend her and the legitimacy of her presidency, and thereby drag her into the field of fire.

As for the generals named in the coup charge, they can ably look after themselves and retain their own lawyers. The Malacanang press office need not rush to their rescue.

The legitimacy question has been settled by the Supreme Court. Engaging Erap Estrada stragglers and thus reopening the issue for another round of debate would only invite probing attacks, especially in the gray areas.

In his effort to defend the Arroyo presidency, Afable ended up concocting a theory of a “peaceful coup by the people” — and not a military mutiny — having taken place in January 2001.

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DEFINITION OF A COUP: The problem with talking of a supposed “peaceful coup by the people” is that there was no such coup in the first place. And there is no need now, in hindsight, to imagine one. Describing the “coup” as peaceful does not make the figment real.

Article 134-A of the Revised Penal Code, which the complainants cited, says a coup d’etat is committed where there is “a swift attack, accompanied by violence, intimidation, threat, strategy or stealth, directed against duly constituted authorities … singly or simultaneously carried out anywhere in the Philippines by any person or persons, belonging to the military … with or without civilian support or participation, for the purpose of seizing or diminishing state power.”

By this definition, coups are staged by the military, not by civilians. In fact, civilian participation or civilian support of a military putsch is immaterial to determining if there was a coup or a coup attempt.

That’s one reason why, we think, in the charges filed by some responsible journalists, only military officers — principally some generals who went on to serve under the Arroyo administration — were cited as respondents.

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REYES ACT WAS NOT A COUP: If it was not a “peaceful coup by the people,” was EDSA II a “peaceful military coup”? No. As we’ve said, there was no coup at all — if we go by the violent Honasan tradition and the Penal Code definition of a “swift attack accompanied by violence, intimidation….”

Against this yardstick, the military led by Gen. Angelo Reyes, AFP chief of staff at the time, and the service commanders cannot be said to have staged a coup when the top brass simply announced their withdrawal of support from then President Erap Estrada.

In a loose sense, Reyes et al. may be said to have mutinied. Or they could be accused of insubordination or disloyalty, but they certainly did not stage a coup d’etat as defined.

In my book, however, Reyes should have stood by his Commander-in-Chief until he was legitimately replaced by due process.

The military should not misread Section 3 of Article II as clothing the armed forces with political power to decide who should be in the seat of power. Precisely, the same section says clearly that “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military.”

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DISTANCING GMA FROM ‘COUP’: A coup is not among the processes provided or allowed by the Constitution for a change of administration or for a legal and orderly succession. Staging a coup is to illegally seize state power.

In this light, we understand why Afable is trying to distance President Arroyo and her presidency from any insinuation of a military coup in January 2001 as raised in the charges against Reyes et al.

But instead of holding his peace and staying out of the fray or saying simply that there was no coup, period, he looked for a way out and came upon the idea of a “peaceful coup by the people.” The tricky word “coup” still stands out.

Malacanang should just consistently call that political storm of January 2001 by its generic and historic name of Edsa II. And keep quiet.

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DANGERS OF ROMANTICISM: As early as that same week of Edsa II last year, we warned against romanticizing that reenactment of People Power. We stressed that GMA succeeded to the presidency by a constitutional process since she was the Vice President mandated to become President when the latter vacates the office.

Getting emotional about People Power and planting it in the public mind as the ultimate mechanism for changing presidents is dangerous. For if there was an EDSA I and an EDSA II, mathematical logic says there can and will be an EDSA III, EDSA IV and so on up to infinity.

If we were to rely on People Power (its detractors call it Mob Rule), we might as well scrap the constitutional provisions for succession, elections, impeachment, recall and other orderly mechanisms provided by the charter.

A so-called “peaceful coup by the people” as imagined by Afable is a dangerous, albeit romantic, theory. Its beneficiaries today could be its victims tomorrow.

Besides, a “peaceful coup by the people” is unfair. Imagine a motley crowd of some 100,000 massed on EDSA presuming to nullify or reverse the solemn mandate of more than 10 million voters in a country of more than 70 million.

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ECOTOURISTIC CHARMS: Those were glorious pictures of President Arroyo on a wild whitewater raft ride down the Mambuaya river in Cagayan de Oro City last Wednesday. We should have more of such happy photographs.

The pictures not only showcased one of the many ecotouristic charms of this country but also projected a hard-working leader who still finds time to have outdoor fun with her family.

We would not be surprised if Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon, the super salesman that he is, has arranged for the film clips to be shown on global cableTV channels. On the raft with GMA and Gordon were her husband Mike and their son Diosdado.

Btw, with the river called Mambuaya do we take it that it is crawling with crocodiles in some shady sections? Sounds exciting!

With weather still permitting, GMA is also set soon to scale 9,612-foot Mt. Pulag in Mountain Province and go surfing in Siargao, Surigao, the acknowledged surfing capital of the region. Weeks earlier, she took time off her golf to go scuba-diving in the coral gardens of Tubbataha reef in Palawan.

Those who can afford it should take after the President and have outdoor fun, too!

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ABBREVIATED RAFTRIDE: As footnote, we share this info on that whitewater rafting from our Pinoy’55 cybertambayan circuit:

Although the excited President wanted to go all the way, she rode only for about 30 minutes of a rafting course that takes 2-3 hours to complete. She rode through three rapids only as she had to leave for her scheduled visit to Oroquieta, Misamis Occ.

But her husband, her son and other officials, Gordon included, rode the whole course. The entourage, with security men of course, used five 8-passenger rafts.

The staff of the rafting outfit, operated by Rupert Domingo, had to wake up at 3 a.m. to prepare everything as GMA was to arrive on the first flight to Cagayan de Oro, at 7 a.m.

Most river guides accompanying them are part-owners of the Cagayan de Oro Whitewater Adventure, the pioneering whitewater outfit in the Philippines, established in 1996. These guides happen to be active and/or semi-retired mountaineer members of the NORMMS Ecological Foundation Inc. based in Cagayan de Oro.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 19, 2002)

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