Oakwood, four years after
Related story: Trillanes: “No regrets”
In the wee hours of July 27, 2003, some 300 soldiers, led by some 70 young officers, wearing red armbands with the Katipunan’s rising sun symbol, commandeered the Oakwood premier hotel at the Makati Commercial Center, wired the surrounding areas and declared withdrawal of support from Gloria Arroyo’s unelected presidency.
That was a Sunday, the day before Arroyo was to deliver her third State-of-the Nation Address.
The 19-hour siege ended with no blood spilled. Just idealisms and dreams crushed.
A lot of things have happened since that event we now refer to as the “Oakwood mutiny.” Even the name of the hotel has changed. It’s now called “Ascott”.
But the most significant development has been the election of Magdalo spokesman Antonio Trillanes IV as senator in the last election. It was a resounding vindication of the cause they had espoused at great risk for themselves.
A lot of things have also remained the same. Gloria Arroyo is still in Malacañang endlessly spinning lies and treachery.
It is worth recalling today the message of the Magdalo boys four years ago:
“We are not doing this because we want power or we want to destabilize our country. We are doing this because of the following major crimes of the government against our people:
First, the GMA government, through the AFP leadership and Secretary Angelo Reyes, has been selling bullets and arms from the government arsenal to the MILF, Abu Sayyaf and the NPA. These bullets, which kill our soldiers, actually came from the very
government that we fighting to defend. This is why there is a war for over 30 years now, and still our enemies have not run out of bullets. As evidence, all the bullets that were recovered from the enemy had the markings that they came from the DND arsenal.”
Two weeks ago, 14 Marines equipped with dud mortar shells died, when ambushed by suspected elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan. Ten of them were beheaded.
Now, some five thousand of our soldiers are in Basilan to salvage the tattered image of the military leadership.
The Magdalo’s words then reverberate sharply today:
“A number of soldiers have died, and even more are going to die in a war that they do not plan to end. Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been caught helpless in the crossfire. They do not want the war to end so that it will continue to be a milking cow of greedy and treacherous officials in the AFP and in the government.”
“We have experienced the true situation of our soldiers. We have shared hardships and sacrifices in the face of an armed conflict, but the support we need against the jaws of death have been pocketed by a few leaders looking out only for their selfish interests.”
One year after the Magdalo officers said this, Gen. Carlos Garcia, the AFP comptroller, and other high-ranking officers were found to have diverted to their personal funds money that should have replaced the worn- out boots of soldiers.
The last we know, the family of Garcia with their stolen millions have left the country. Garcia is supposed to be still facing charges before the court martial and the Ombudsman. He is supposed to be still in detention.
Garcia, who has defrauded Filipino taxpayers of their hear-earned money enjoy better treatment than the Magdalos who denounced, albeit in the most forceful manner, the demoralizing irregularities in the military.
Despite the agreement with her representative, former AFP Chief of Staff Roy Cimatu, that only the five leaders of the group would be tried in court martial (not in a civilian court), Arroyo, not surprisingly, charged and imprisoned even the enlisted men.
In what is actually an act of sacrifice to ease the pressure on the lower-ranking members of the group, the six Magdalo leaders in 2004 apologized for the action they have taken.
The government’s divide-and-rule strategy has succeeded with some of the Magdalo fficers. Army Captains Army Captains Gerardo Gambala, Milo Maestrecampo, Lt. Lawrence San Juan and ten others now sing tunes favorable to the Arroyo government.
Other shifted strategy to be able to continue the fight for truth and justice another day, another place. More than 50 younger officers struck plea bargain. They pleaded guilty for conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline in exchange for the dropping of other charges namely disrespect toward the President, Vice President, members of Congress and the Secretary of National Defense; disrespect toward a superior officer; AW 67 mutiny or sedition; and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. They are expected to be out of prison in January 2008.
Others are holding on: Trillanes, Marine Captains. Nicanor Faeldon and Gary Lejano, LTsg James Layug, Eugene Gonzalez and more.
On the 4th anniversary of “Oakwood mutiny”, Capt. Faeldon issued a statement re-affirming his stand. At the same time he made it clear that he respects the decision of his colleagues to enter into plea bargains. “Their beliefs are their own, as is their right to chart the courses of their own lives,” he said.
Excerpts from his inspiring statement:
”When I went to Oakwood, four years ago, it was clear to me that in order for me to bring the truth to my countrymen, I could stand to lose my life, my career or everything I hold dear.
”Years later, it is to my sorrow that no significant changes have taken place despite our warnings, our concerns and our acts in Oakwood. The system is as corrupt as ever, the military is now more politicized than ever before and the highest executive in the land holds office in spite of the absence of a clear mandate. Even sadder, our soldiers are still needlessly dying out there.
”With these in mind, I refuse to bargain with the dubious authorities who exercise power without conscience and who are responsible for the ills that I felt compelled to report to my countrymen. At any rate, an agreement of this nature would be a tacit ratification or recognition of Presidential powers that lie uneasily in the wrong hands.
”If this refusal to bargain means a prison term or the loss of my life, I am prepared, now, as much as I was four years ago, to pay the price for telling the truth.”