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Philippine coup attempt highlights military problems

An hour before Philippine Marines attacked rebel soldiers holding a military camp in last Friday's revolt, they received a pep talk from their commander. ``We will prove to everybody that we are truly the professional soldiers,'' shouted Col. Emmanuel Teodosio, standing atop a jeep before 350 heavily-armed marines. ``We support the institutions of our government. We are not for any individual. The might of our guns is within ourselves.''

The Marines then launched an assault that ended the Aug. 28 rebellion waged against President Corazon Aquino and her government by a band of military colonels and almost a thousand soldiers.

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Two days later Mrs. Aquino said, ``Someone once told me: Take care of your Marines, and they will take care of you. The Marines certainly have.''

The Marines' rescue of the Aquino government highlights the President's continuing difficulty in coming to terms with the troubled ranks of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

``She couldn't trust the regular Army to do this,'' said a United States diplomat, ``Morale is low and most of the rebel soldiers came from the Army.''

The Army constitutes 58 percent of the AFP's regular fighting force. A disproportionate number are from the northern provinces, home to ethnic Ilocanos who were the prime military recruits during the two-decade rule of Ferdinand Marcos. Mr. Marcos and his defense chief, Juan Ponce Enrile, are both Ilocanos.

Lingering military problems - most originating under Marcos - have dogged Aquino since she took power 18 months ago. Last week's military rebellion was the fifth against her government, and the most serious. The rebel attack, which began about 1 a.m. Friday, included a bloody battle at the presidential palace that resulted in the wounding of her son.

The attack focused attention on two weak aspects of the military: intelligence gathering and effective court-martialing of rebel soldiers.

Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto says the rebellion was a secret guarded too closely for either Filipino military intelligence or US diplomats to detect. What counted, he says, was that security around Aquino was adequate. Proper prosecution of the rebels is now a main concern, Secretary Ileto adds.

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``If we don't convict these guys, we lose crediblity with the people, and we may lose the republic.''

Aquino indirectly acknowledged that her past policy of leniency to those who opposed her has failed to rally the military behind her. Leaders of previous military revolts, for instance, have merely been reassigned to new posts.

``I had thought the spirit of reconcilation would close the fissures in the armed forces,'' she said yesterday. ``But now I see that only a common cause, a common danger, and a common fight for the right can forge an iron bond of unity in the armed forces.''

The rebellion's leaders relied on widespread dissent within the military to rally the force that attacked the palace, two television stations, the Air Force headquarters, and the AFP headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo outside Manila.

``We need to find a better way to motivate soldiers in the lower ranks,'' says the Marine Commandant, Brig. Gen. Rudolfo Biazon.

Most of the rebels came from the military's Camp Magsaysay, about 50 miles north of Manila in the province that was the base for the rebellion's ringleader, Col. Gregorio Honasan. At least three of the nation's 73 provinces were threatened temporarily by commanders siding with the rebels.

Dissent within the AFP ranges from complaints about pay and housing to Aquino's strategy for fighting the communist insurgency. A number of soldiers resent the fact that an amnesty has been offered to surrendering communist rebels while soldiers are being prosecuted for human rights abuses. Another factor is that some officers have been passed over in recent promotions. Colonel Honasan was one not promoted.

``The rebels took advantage of these issues for their own objectives - to take power,'' said Secretary Ileto. ``But these issues are being taken up by the administration and the Congress. You can't just shortcut it [by a coup].''

The Marine leadership had trouble responding quickly to Friday's unexpected revolt. More than 10 hours passed after the first attack before the Marines launched their assault on the main rebel force, which had retreated to Camp Aguinaldo, located in a walled compound in Quezon City.

A source close to the military said the Marines delayed deploying their troops to Camp Aguinaldo until it was certain that the rebels would fire on the marines. The brief but intense civil war between soldiers was a new experience for the country.

Rebel leaders reportedly banked on the tradition that soldiers wouldn't shoot fellow soldiers. They also seemed to believe that Aquino would choose to negotiate rather than order an attack. Their assumptions proved wrong.

Honasan helped bring Aquino to power last year as a leader of Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), a group of about 700 officers associated with Mr. Enrile. RAM opposed the politicization and corruption of the military under Marcos.

RAM and Enrile led the wholesale defection of military officers against Marcos on Feb. 22, 1986. The defections began after Marcos uncovered a RAM plot against him. Aquino officials believe that same coup blueprint was used in Friday's attack. While most of the rebels surrendered, Honasan and a few other leaders escaped.

Even after Aquino was in power, several RAM leaders spread rumors of impending coups. Enrile, who had been kept on as defense chief, was sacked on Nov. 22 after coup rumors heightened. His possible involvement in last week's events remains under official scrutiny.

The attack has brought a stronger political bond between Aquino and Gen. Fidel Ramos, the AFP chief of staff. Many of the major participants in last year's anti-Marcos revolt have turned against Aquino, but General Ramos has served her well in suppressing each military uprising. In fact, he was a main target of the rebels, who were seeking his ouster.

``For the past 18 months, it has become clear to me that General Ramos and I have begun to share common enemies,'' Aquino said.

Unlike previous military revolts, this one appeared to have no link with Marcos or his supporters. This surprised many Filipinos, who have accused Marcos of creating many of the nation's problems. Friday's attacks highlight the fact that those problems, especially in the military, are deeper than just one man.

Aquino said yesterday that ``the aim was clearly to kill the President and her family.''

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