A storm is gathering as some disgruntled officers of the Philippine military are about to attempt to seize the government in the event of a constitutional crisis in the aftermath of the Corona impeachment trial. That’s according to some media reports. What are the chances of a military takeover? Improbable as an American coup d’état.
|A contingent of Philippine marines marching at their navy headquarters in Manila.
Agence France-Presse file photo.
There are at least nine “assaults” on the modern Philippine presidency since the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, including the puerile 1986 Manila Hotel siege where Arturo Tolentino, Marcos’s running-mate in the February snap election that led to his ouster by EDSA I people power revolution, was sworn as acting president by no less than former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, the current head counsel of Renato Corona’s defence team. But that event quietly fizzled out as the Aquino presidency was reinforced by the loyalty of General Fidel Ramos, then Armed Forces chief, and the support of the United States.
The other attempts were all undertaken by the military to directly take control of the government under Cory Aquino in 1987 and 1989, and against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2003 and 2006. For the first time in Philippine history, these putsches were instigated by reformist military officers organized under the umbrella of Reform the Armed Forces (RAM) Movement led by Col. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan during the Aquino period and by the Magdalo faction during Arroyo’s term. Col. Honasan’s RAM helped install Mrs. Aquino as president in the bloodless revolution in 1986 but became disgruntled by the way she ran the country.
Two of the six failed coup attempts in 1987 and 1989 were aimed in unseating President Cory Aquino. Col. Honasan, the leader of these coups went into hiding in 1989 after being charged with rebellion for leading the most serious coup against the government. The official casualty list included 99 people dead, including 50 civilians, and 750 wounded. Under orders from President George H.W. Bush, the United States military supported the Aquino government in allowing the use of U.S. airpower from the USS Midway and USS Enterprise aircraft carriers and F-5 fighters from Clark Air Base in the Philippines in shooting down the military rebels if necessary.
Col. Honasan eventually came out from hiding in 1992 after accepting amnesty from General Fidel Ramos, who succeeded Cory Aquino for the presidency. Honasan entered politics and was elected senator in 1995, and now joins his colleagues in the Senate as jurors in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona.
|Former coup leaders Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan (left) and Antonio Trillanes IV
(2nd from right) with fellow Philippine senators Tito Sotto and Ferdinand Marcos
Jr. Photo courtesy of No Drugs. Click link to view video on "Gregorio Honasan,"
Another leader of the 1986 EDSA I People Power Revolution, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the defence chief during that time and now President of the Senate, was also arrested for his involvement in the 1989 coup led by Col. Honasan, Enrile’s former military aide. Prior to the coup, Enrile was Cory Aquino’s defence secretary, but he resigned after becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the Aquino government. Enrile was among seven people indicted for “rebellion with murder” in connection with the bloody 1989 coup attempt, charges which were eventually thrown out by the Supreme Court.
Although President Joseph Estrada was ousted from the presidency in 2001 in a bloodless coup, the military did not take a direct role but simply withdrew its allegiance to the unpopular president and threw its support to the EDSA II People Power that forced Estrada to step down. This was reminiscent of Juan Ponce Enrile’s deserting Ferdinand Marcos during EDSA I as the latter’s defence chief when he joined the reformist military officers and the throng of people that drove Marcos out of the country. Former President Fidel Ramos, a former general himself and other high-ranking officers of the military were rumored to have played a direct hand in the military’s reneging their allegiance to President Estrada.
During her term as president, Gloria Arroyo was besieged by two military coups. The first was in 2003 when a group of soldiers and their officers code-named Magdalo staged a military rebellion popularly known as the Oakwood mutiny. Oakwood was a luxury apartment complex in Makati City and was booby-trapped and seized for 20 hours by 300 rebel soldiers demanding the resignation of Arroyo and the institution of badly-needed reforms in the military.
|Oakwood mutineers, 2003. Photo courtesy of Mr. Hepe .
Magdalo was headed by Philippine Military Academy (PMA) graduates from the Class 1990s and beyond and most of the mutiny leaders were honour cadets in their class. Army Capt. Gerardo Gambala, who was the main leader of the mutiny, was the valedictorian of PMA Class 1995. Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes, a young naval officer, was a very articulate spokesman of Magdalo at that time. Most of the Magdalo leaders were not only prominent in their class but belonged to poor families who managed to send them to the military academy because of government scholarships. The Magdalo group was further rumored to have initiated secret negotiations with the leftist elements, notably the CPP-NPA, in forming an alliance to seize the government.
Two more aborted coups against the Arroyo administration in February 2006 failed to gather support from top military brass and from the people as the anniversary of EDSA I was celebrated. Some have dubbed the failed coup as a “walk-in-the-park” tactic hoping the military rebels would be able to generate people power support.
Trillanes, who was one of the leaders of the Oakwood tyranny, ran for senator and won while in prison. As Ramos did for Honasan, Noynoy Aquino, three months in his presidency, granted amnesty to Trillanes along with 300 other mutineers in an attempt to expand his influence in the Senate. Senator Trillanes is now serving his term as senator and is considered an ally of Noynoy Aquino, especially in the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona.
Military not trained to rule
The leaders of all the failed military putsches against the Philippine government were all trained by the PMA, a military training school modeled after the United States Military Academy with officers from the Philippine Scouts and regular United States Army as instructors and members of the general staff. It was no wonder that officers produced by the PMA were similarly imbued with the tradition of professionalism of American soldiers. Many American observers are unanimous in their opinion that an American coup d’état is next to impossible because of the culture of the military. Civilian control of the military is too deeply ingrained in the armed forces. Therefore, the notion of a cabal of U.S. military officers colluding to overthrow the government is almost unthinkable. The professional ethic within the military is firmly committed to the principle that they don't rule.
|Philippine Military Academy cadets in Pass in Review Ceremony. Photo courtesy
of TrafikMedia. Click link to view "Should the military intervene in politics?"
The right-wing media which spread the absurd theory that the Left had made an alliance with the Magdalo group of military rebels during the aborted Oakwood mutiny in 2003 have resurrected this old yarn that the same alliance is plotting a coup against the Aquino government. Some military officers are blaming some “leftist personalities” in the Aquino administration who are planning to grab power as part of the communist infiltration of the government.
It was Senator Antonio Trillanes, a leader of the Oakwood mutiny, who made the exposé of a coup plot against President Aquino.
On his part, President Aquino said some groups were planning to oust him because of his fight against graft and corruption from the “old system,” alluding to retired military officers close to former President Gloria Arroyo who is currently in prison for election fraud and corruption.
Jose Ma. Sison, alleged founder and leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines, is also reported to have slipped into the country and is reported to be discussing the formation of a coalition government with Noynoy Aquino.
Idle chatter part of destabilization
All this idle chatter about a military coup against President Aquino sounds more like part of a destabilization campaign by the government and the military. As with all the previous attempts in the past, a new putsch will certainly fail. Noynoy Aquino will reward the top brass of the military for their efforts in quelling another mutiny, in exchange for their undivided loyalty. Perhaps some junior officers will capitalize on this incident and emulate the feats of Honasan and Trillanes in joining Congress.
Even if the acquittal of Chief Justice Corona could trigger a constitutional crisis, it is still not enough to stir a military takeover. What should really worry President Noynoy Aquino is the great possibility of a huge transport strike and massive demonstrations against the crippling cost of diesel fuel, similar to the late 1960s that led to the proclamation of martial law. Should Noynoy’s advisers bungle this situation, as they are wont to do, it could spark widespread unrest.
President Noynoy Aquino should not fear an alliance between the Left and the military rebels, an impossible phenomenon to occur in the Philippines, although it’s been the norm in other countries. All the Aquino administration should worry is that his government will fall from its weight, for its failure to improve the lives of the poor, and for doing nothing.