It was the media’s fault. They waylaid Navy Lieutenant Antonio Trillanes, and given the military’s commitment to free expression, not all the intelligence agents in the country could have, or should have, stopped him from talking to reporters.

That’s Brig. Gen. Marlu Quevedo, chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, artfully explaining why ISAFP stood by with its hands in its pockets while Trillanes was being interviewed by print media reporters and later, by TV network ABS-CBN.

Trillanes is one of the alleged leaders of the July 27, 2003 Oakwood mutiny by some 400 officers and men of the Air Force, Army and Navy. Named after the Makati apartment-hotel they occupied, the mutiny took all of less than 24 hours to resolve, with the mutineers being taken into custody after each of them had their 15 minutes of fame via the media.

Trillanes and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) gave print and broadcast media people a treat last week when he spoke with them in the presence of dozens of ISAFP agents and other military escorts after a hearing of Trillanes’ case at the Makati Regional Trial Court.

The Navy lieutenant naturally took the opportunity to air his views on the current political crisis, and urged Filipinos to choose between Arroyo and “change.” But it wasn’t so much what he said as the fact that he was able to say it that was surprising—as surprising in fact, as Quevedo’s explanation.

Trillanes is accused of the serious offense of leading a coup attempt three years ago, although to this day few Filipinos can understand what the occupation of Oakwood was all about. Did Trillanes and company expect other military units from metro Manila and neighboring provinces to rebel and march to Makati, from where they would proceed to Malacanang to throw Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo into the Pasig?

Or, as they disingenuously declared afterwards, were they just expressing their opinions—while heavily armed and keeping their fingers ready on the trigger—on corruption in the military establishment and the alleged involvement of high ranking officers in bombings the AFP and police had attributed to “terrorists”?

Or was it merely a media event, a photo and video opportunity meant to spice up an otherwise boring Sunday while scaring away the tourists and foreign investors every government in this country thinks would save it? Will the Oakwood mutiny go down in history as one more puzzle in a country where events like Oakwood occur with neither rhyme, reason nor thought—just like the bungling and bungled coup attempts of the 1980s led by Gringo Honasan?

No matter. The Oakwood mutiny then was news, and the people involved in it are still the stuff of headlines and the evening news broadcasts There’s talk, after all, of coup attempts being cooked up by the usual suspects—the “disgruntled” elements of the military, who for the last twenty years since EDSA 1 have threatened to seize power forcibly every time they’re slighted, or feel they’ve been slighted.

Fueling the talk is the escape of five of the alleged Oakwood mutineers: Captain Nicanor Faeldon’s last December 14, and that of four Army officers last January 17. Trillanes’ being allowed to talk to media while in Isafp custody came a few days after the escape of the last four. Twelve Philippine Air Force Officers detained for the same offense were also allowed to talk to the media, “to show, said PAF Commanding General Jose Reyes, that “we (the military) are transparent.”

Amazing. A more likely explanation is that the military allowed Trillanes and company access to the media to send the (putative) commander-in-chief a message, reminding her that she can’t take the armed services for granted. Mrs. Arroyo has after all been doing exactly that in the last several months since the political crisis over the “Hello Garci” tapes exploded, promoting the officers most loyal to her with hardly any regard for the sensibilities of the officer corps and the military rank and file.

Lately the source of senior officers’ resentment are Mrs. Arroyo’s appointments of two generals who figure prominently in the “Hello Garci” tapes—Maj. Gen. Gabriel Habacom, and Rear Admiral Tirso Danga—to head the Southern and Western Commands, respectively.

Habacon was repeatedly mentioned in the wiretapped conversations between someone who could be Mrs. Arroyo and former Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano as somehow instrumental in the canvassing of Mindanao votes. Danga was ISAFP Chief when that agency allegedly wire-tapped the conversations—on the orders of, rumor has it, someone very close to Mrs. Arroyo herself.

But the “disgruntled” aren’t taking issue with the appointments because of the seeming involvement of Habacon and Danga in election fraud. Mostly they protest the bypassing of other senior officers, and Habacon’s no longer being qualified for promotion other than to Chief of Staff, since he has less than a year in the service before he retires.

Ergo, the reasons for their disgruntlement have hardly progressed from the time the mutineers of the 1980s complained about favoritism, low salaries and housing. Their allowing the alleged Oakwood mutineers access to media happens to be a convenient means of saying, hey, you can’t take our loyalty for granted. Thus the sudden expressions of support for press freedom and free expression from no less than the chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines– an organization many remember as a key component in the suppression of human rights during the martial law period.

Does Mrs. Arroyo have anything to fear from the military? While her leading advisers, among them National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, seem to be beside themselves with alarm, Mrs. Arroyo seems as calm as a Prozac patient. That’s probably because she not only knows how little it takes to placate the generals—invite them to dinner, promise them anything, be nice to their wives—; she also remembers that no coup attempt by the military has ever succeeded in this country even while civilian governments were falling all over Asia like dominoes. Losing sleep over all this she isn’t.

(Business Mirror)

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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