Philippine military rebels behind coup plot commanded elite units
MANILA (AFP) Jul 26, 2003
The reputed leaders of the latest military uprising in the Philippines are young officers who led elite units and are experts on explosives, officials said Saturday.

But the group, all led by graduates of the elite Philippine Military Academy (PMA), harbored complaints against the system ranging from low pay to corruption, they added.

President Gloria Arroyo announced Saturday her government has discovered a coup plot by junior military officers and warned that they would be severely punished.

Officials said about 20 junior officers backed by "between 40-50" fully armed men were behind the revolt.

The suspected leaders "are primarily from the classes of 1995 to 1997" of the PMA, which produces most of the military's officer corps, Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes said over DZBB radio.

All the identified leaders of the plot are aged 30 or younger, and included two commanders of battalions of the elite Army Scout Rangers.

"Some members (of these classes) are missing. The others are with their respective units," and presumably not supporting their classmates' action, Reyes said.

The government had known for some time that "they have problems and they have expressed certain complaints. What we did not know was that they would rise up" against the government, he added.

Armed forces vice chief of staff Lieutenant General Rodolfo Garcia said at least one of two soldiers named in the plot is an officer in the "Special Warfare Group," which he described as a Navy unit that has had advanced training with explosives.

Asked if he thought the plotters were capable of overthrowing the government, Garcia told a news conference: "Definitely not. That's a very slim possibility."

He added, "They cannot overthrow this government, but they can create mischief."

"This is not a threat to the government. This is a threat to stability," said Senator Rodolfo Biazon, a retired Marine general and armed forces chief of staff who fought the bloodiest of seven coup attempts against the Corazon Arroyo presidency in the late 1980s.

The leaders of those plots were also mainly PMA graduates. Most were later pardoned as part of a peace settlement with the government in the early 1990s.

Biazon stressed the plot unraveled by Arroyo was different from the anti-Aquino coup attempts, which followed the fall of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship in 1986.

"These are just a few individuals who have gone on AWOL (unauthorized leave)," Biazon said. "We don't know that they have their own troops. Personally, I don't believe that they can persuade their men to join them."

He said he heard that two battalions of Army Scout Rangers were unaccounted for from Fort Magsaysay, a military camp north of Manila that is home to one of the Army's eight divisions.

"During my time I fought entire brigades," Biazon told DZBB.

This time, the plot lacks "personalities" or "issues" that can rally support to their cause, the senator said. "Their issues are internal" to the armed forces, he said.

Arroyo hosted a dinner for a group of junior officers at Malacanang presidential palace on Wednesday after press reports came out that a group of Army and Navy junior officers had complained of low pay, corruption in the upper ranks and inadequate housing facilities.

The rebels listed in the manhunt all came from the Army and Navy officer corps, Arroyo's national security adviser Roilo Golez said.

The rising had "no representatives from the Air Force or Marines," he added.

"We can assure our people that this is a small band of officers and men," Reyes said. "We have this under control."