It is almost certain that some kind of a deal was struck between the leaders of the July 27, 2003 Oakwood mutiny and the Arroyo government.

An amnesty, or perhaps a pardon for the mutineers and their leaders after a showcase trial, is thus likely, despite Malacanang’s repeated assertions to the contrary and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s insistence that the government will pursue the cases against the mutineers and their leaders. After all, if there is anything consistent about Mrs. Arroyo, it is her capacity for saying one thing and doing another, as the entire nation has learned to its sorrow.

Some of the mutineers, those from the lower ranks who can always claim they were misled, are also likely to be released whether temporarily or permanently on the strength of their supposed contrition.

As for the Arroyo government, it can now claim the support of both young and old generations in the Philippine military, while past and current military officials bask in what amounts to an exoneration from the charges of corruption and even involvement in the Davao bombings the mutineers were so loudly making last year.

No one meekly apologizes to the same government he not only inveighed against but also tried to overthrow only 13 months ago without the promise of something in return—unless, of course, he is morally convinced that he was wrong and the other in the right.

There is none of that suggestion—not even a hint of it—in the apology that the leaders of the mutiny made to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo last Friday. But there is plenty in the same statement to suggest that these leaders are in their heart of hearts less than repentant.

The mutineers’ leaders—Antonio Trillanes and James Layug of the Navy, Gerardo Gambala and Milo Maestrecampo of the Army, Nicanor Faeldon andGary Lejano of the Marines—held to their claim that their and their cohorts’ occupation of Oakwood Hotel last year had been nothing but a demonstration, an effort to “air grievances.”

They described their forcible occupation of the hotel, their rigging it with bombs, and their threats to blow it up as an “honest though naïve desire for change,” with which method, however, “the Filipino people did not agree.”

After claiming that they are now convinced that “the road to peace and progress is a long and difficult journey where (sic) every Filipino has the responsibility of sharing the burden,” the statement goes on to say that “we have concluded that the only way to achieve this is for our people to be united in moving toward our vision.

“In this light we apologize to our Commander- in- Chief…as we declare our unequivocal commitment to peace and reconciliation with her administration. We also enjoin others to do the same to finally complete our nation’s healing process (sic).”

Although it sounded as if it had been prepared by lawyers and Malacanang itself, the statement Gambala read was more notable for what it did not say than what it said.

It did not say what Trillanes and company were apologizing to Mrs. Arroyo for. It did not say that the mutineers regretted their criticism of the Defense Department and Armed Forces leaderships last year, only that they had “overstated” the extent of corruption in the AFP. Most of all did it not say that their occupation of Oakwood was wrong– only that it had been “naïve.”

The inevitable conclusion is that the so-called apology was a recourse meant to effect the release, if not of the mutineers’ leaders, at least of most of their number. If that were to happen, it would take place at a time critical for the Arroyo administration.

That administration is in the throes of a fiscal crisis for which, by borrowing more heavily from 2001-2004 than the combined Ramos and Estrada administrations, it is at least partly responsible.

Over the last few weeks Mrs. Arroyo’s calls for austerity have thus fallen on increasingly cynical ears. News of continuing government waste has deepened the widespread belief that the government doesn’t mean what it says. Mrs. Arroyo’s trip to China last August, in which she took along not only her whole family but also maids and yayas, and the obscene salaries executives of Government Owned and Controlled Corporations [GOCCs] are only two of the cases most often citied to justify the belief that the government is not only lying, but is also about to punish the people for its own mismanagement of the country’s finances.

Filipinos are also fiercely opposed to new and higher taxes—but not because they don’t want to pay more, but because they feel their taxes will be misspent, while the well-connected and corrupt pay less or don’t pay at all. Add this to the fact that most Filipinos doubt the legality of Mrs. Arroyo’s mandate and are convinced that she cheated in the last elections.

This is a volatile combination that could easily lead to demonstrations and rioting in the streets. The same groups that wait in the wings for any sign of mass discontent so they can use it to their advantage are thus rumored to have resumed their recruitment of both active and retired military officers and enlisted men.

Among the populace at large, what most feeds instability in this country is the poverty that afflicts two-thirds of the population, and which makes that two-thirds vulnerable to the blandishments of military adventurists and the demagogues still resident in the country’s political institutions including the Senate. And let’s not forget those groupings in civil society ranks whose leaders are expert in the conspiratorial arts.

A single spark could thus ignite the firestorm that could lead to the demise of the Arroyo government, and Mrs. Arroyo and company know it. The Trillanes apology thus came at a suspiciously opportune time, when, among other major concerns, the Arroyo government must make certain of military support.

But if Malacanang operatives indeed wrote the script for, directed and finally staged that apology, the Arroyo administration can yet end up outmaneuvering itself.

The possibility that the present and impending crises could be their moment would not have been lost to Trillanes et. al. and their advisers. Those advisers are not all in the mold of Gringo Honasan, who must surely rank among the world’s worst coup plotters. These advisers now include personalities from those minuscule right-wing organizations disguised as left-wing groups that are eager to use the military for their purposes in the absence of their own armed capacity to seize power.

The Arroyo government may have concluded that a show of contrition no matter how evasively worded could only be to its advantage. But the Oakwood mutineers could have similarly concluded that it would be to theirs. Malacanang, however, could have factored into its calculations the possibility of deception, and of the mutineers’ once more taking up their cause and their guns once a sufficient number of them are released.

The next few weeks could indicate how cunning both sides have been, even as the financial crisis worsens, poverty accelerates, discontent rises, and the current expression of the Philippine crisis morphs into a struggle for survival on the part of the Arroyo government. In these circumstances, that Malacanang spectacle in which the Oakwood mutineers “apologized” would recede into the background as a minor sidebar to a state of catastrophe.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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  1. Filipinos have yet to fully understand the distinction between crime and punishment. They say we are a forgiving race. I say moves like this shows we are not forgiving, instead it says we are opportunists. Perhaps I shuldn’t be generalizing, but why do problems like this resurface everytime? Becuase those who needed to be punished have yet to feel the teeth of the Law. ANd people see the law’s teeth don’t bite – it’s a good puppy not a vigilant guard dog.

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