POSTSCRIPT / July 31, 2003 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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That was not a mutiny, but a failed coup d’etat

WHY COUP FAILED: Let’s not kid ourselves. What happened last Sunday was a failed coup d’etat. We’re being kind to the military adventurers and the politicians manipulating them when we downgrade their operation to a mere mutiny.

The coup attempt failed because the military teams that were to reinforce the main force in Makati failed to move, the civilian groups that were to provide warm bodies in the streets failed to march, and the political component could not muster the courage to openly lead the crumbling rebellion.

It was obvious from the start that the contingent of almost 300 soldiers led by navy LSG Antonio F. Trillanes IV that took over the Oakwood condominium in Makati was well-prepared in all aspects, including superlative logistics.

The trouble was that while the Trillanes team, calling itself the Magdalo group, performed according to plan, the other components of the coup did not.

Cornered with no prospects of being reinforced, the group boxed in at Oakwood yielded after hearing face-saving promises of fair treatment and the investigation of their supposed grievances.

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POLITICAL DEMAND: The recitation of the grievances — such as those over the sale of guns and bullets to the enemy, the military’s role in terrorist explosions in the South, and corruption in the higher echelons of the armed forces — came only later in the day.

Early on, the key demand of the Magdalo component — the only visible and audible participants of the coup — was for President Arroyo to step down.

That is not a grievance. That is a political demand, a challenge not normally made in the context of a mutiny but of a “blow to the state” (coup d’etat). Decapitating the government structure is the coup de grace of any attempt to seize state power.

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WHO’LL TAKE OVER?: But assuming the unlikely scenario that President Arroyo would roll over and play dead as her soldiers had ordered, who would take over the executive powers?

Government investigators are busy building the theory that former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada may have known of the coup plot and was ready to take back the presidency had the plot succeeded.

Assuming he knew of the plot and his being the beneficiary but failed to report the fact to the authorities, does that make Estrada a co-conspirator?

(It’s like asking if by knowing themselves to be the beneficiary of various foundations with fat secret bank accounts abroad, are the Marcoses guilty of amassing and hiding illegal wealth?)

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GRINGO ROLE PROBED: Another team is also investigating the possible involvement of Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, a known coup plotter who instead of being punished for his mad capers in the late 1980s had been rewarded with a Senate seat.

By an uncanny coincidence, out of the blue Honasan announced days before Sunday’s coup attempt that he wanted to become president. Going by common wisdom and the election calendar, that announcement was much too premature.

Why did this minor senator, whose possibly becoming president never figured in analyses and surveys, suddenly surface with a grand plan to become president? Was he laying the basis for something?

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NATIONAL RECOVERY: Also puzzling is Honasan’s announcement of a political platform for National Recovery. Again by some coincidence, his program of government emerged as the only political alternative being espoused by the Magdalo group.

We’re not impressed by Honasan’s failure to immediately grab the accusations by the collar. Psychologically, that was bad for the supposedly macho coup leader of the Cory years.

He was initially paralyzed by fear of being arrested and presented to the press the way former Estrada Cabinet member Ramon Cardenas was humiliated? He did not know what to say?

But we thought an innocent man does not need two days to compose his thoughts or to work up enough righteous anger to confront his accusers.

Government investigators are not telling us yet how they propose to wed the two scenarios of either Estrada or Honasan taking the presidency or chairmanship of a junta in case the coup succeeded.

Or would it be one after the other, one serving as the shoehorn for the other?

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TAP GUINGONA: If President Arroyo is still scouting for credible individuals to head the commissions to investigate the soldiers’ grievances and various aspects of the failed coup, maybe she can tap Vice President Teofisto Guingona for one of them.

His presence will obviate suspicions of a possible whitewash or coverup. Aside from the credibility that Guingona can bring to the job, his participation would be an adroit political move to bring him into the Malacanang orbit.

The illicit sale of military weapons and ammunition to anybody who can afford it, including rebels awash in foreign funds, is of public knowledge. An earnest investigation into this treachery will unearth more scandals involving military personnel.

But we say at the outset that it is a bit ridiculous to picture Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes taking off for Mindanao to peddle rifles and bullets to rebels to make a little money to augment his small salary. Anyway, let the commission get to work.

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LEARNING LESSONS: The investigation of official corruption and other anomalies listed by the Magdalo renegades should proceed apart from the prosecution of the military and civilian participants in the failed coup.

While there is prima facie indication that the soldiers’ grievances have basis in fact, the officers and men cannot escape the consequences of their wreaking havoc on the chain of command to achieve their avowed intentions.

This republic, if it is to be strong, must learn from the repeated lessons of the Honasan coups that set back the economy by about 10 years and inflicted other incalculable damage to institutions and the national psyche.

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WASH AWAY THE STAIN: President Arroyo is right in showing a firm hand in dealing with the coup participants. Somebody has to whip the juvenile military back into line.

Our fear is that the elitist clique ruling the military will move to protect its kind. Despite the President’s resolve, prosecution of the renegade soldiers may just fizzle out without us being able to impress on the soldiers that they are to be loyal to the Constitution and all that it stands for.

Somebody has got to wash away the blood in the military’s uniform, a stain of its having tasted political power. That task falls, foremost, on the Commander-in-Chief.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 31, 2003)

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