Tue, 29 Jul 2003

Masterminds of the abortive coup

Philippine Daily Inquirer, Asia News Network, Manila

Both Malacanang and Camp Aguinaldo have sounded the alarm over the involvement of certain politicians, with Interior Secretary Joey Lina even naming ex-coup leader and now opposition senator Gringo Honasan. Even Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia, Armed Forces vice chief of staff and military spokesperson, described the group of rogue junior officers as "Honasan's faction." But senators have crossed party lines to defend Honasan, or at least give the man who led the two most destructive coup attempts in the 1980s the benefit of the doubt.

Until Lina produces the evidence he says links Honasan to the mutiny, we are left to note resemblances between the military adventures he staged and Sunday's mutiny.

To be sure, from one point of view, Honasan's fingerprints seem to be all over the place. The coup attempts of February 1986, August 1987 and December 1989 were fatally flawed in both concept and execution. The coup leaders had an insufficient idea of the vital strategic centers that must be controlled, and they failed to muster enough disciplined soldiers to carry out their already limited plans. Above all, their plans did not factor in the need for people's support.

Sunday's mutiny -- perhaps as in February 1986 an aborted coup -- was marked by the same defects. The failure to take public support into consideration was especially telling. Instead of drawing public sympathy, the mutineers' defensive maneuver -- taking over the Glorietta mall and the Oakwood hotel -- was guaranteed to put their motives in the worst possible light.

The idea that the mutiny was merely a "peaceful" attempt to raise the officers' grievances, as mutiny leader Lieutenant Senior Grade Antonio Trillanes IV insisted several times to reporters, was so diametrically opposite the reality that the public could see for themselves on TV that it completely undermined the mutineers' credibility. But then, credibility is something to worry about only when you care about what the public thinks.

Some of the grievances the military mutineers have raised are legitimate, but the method they have chosen to dramatize their concerns is illegal, immoral, inept-and ultimately un-Filipino. We denounce the mutiny in the strongest possible terms.

Taking over parts of the Glorietta commercial complex in Makati City, the country's central business district, may have been a defensive maneuver yesterday on the part of the disgruntled junior officers, whom the President ordered arrested on Saturday night. But their action has harmed both their cause of action, and the country at large.

As of noon Sunday, the world's news channels and news websites were full of images of heavily armed soldiers keeping watch over booby-trapped buildings, beside stories with such headlines as Armed men seize Manila mall. The damage to the country's image will be weighed in the next few days, but we can be sure that the impact will illustrate the truth of a new axiom: The road to public relations hell is paved with disgruntled officers' good intentions.

The mutineers' cause has also sustained a mortal blow. Raising serious issues-including systemic military corruption, connivance with the enemies of the state, state-sponsored terrorism, and an alleged Macapagal administration plan to declare martial law in August -- the mutineers have failed to present evidence aside from the testimony of their personal experience. By staging a mutiny and taking over a commercial center, however, the officers have knocked these issues off the pedestal they had themselves jerrybuilt. Now the issue facing both the administration and the nation is more stark: If military officers commit a crime, shouldn't they be punished to the fullest extent of the law?

The public has lost patience with, and the government has learned the ineffectiveness of, the 100-pushups brand of punishment. While the Macapagal administration must look into the officers' grievances, the chain of command must subject the mutineers to the maximum penalty under the law.