Arroyo OKs dismissal of 54 Oakwood mutineers

Court-martial verdict upheld

By Christine Avendaño
Last updated 04:22am (Mla time) 07/05/2007

MANILA, Philippines — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has approved the dismissal of 54 junior military officers implicated in the failed July 2003 Oakwood mutiny, the military said Wednesday.


“(The President’s approval) manifests that justice had been served and that the military justice system is fair and reasonable as it is harsh,” military spokesperson Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro said.


“Military adventurism has no place in a democratic society, it will not be tolerated and that disciplinary action will in all cases be clear, swift and decisive,” he said.


The 54 officers will be dishonorably discharged from the military, with no benefits, when they complete their imprisonment in January, Bacarro said.


A military court-martial had earlier recommended the dishonorable discharge from the military service of the 54 renegade officers.


Bacarro said President Arroyo approved last June 12 the verdict handed down by the general court-martial presided by Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Legaspi.


The 54 officers made a plea bargain agreement with a court-martial last April, resulting in a reduction of their jail term from seven to four years. They have been in custody since the mutiny and the detention will count as time served.


The junior officers are scheduled to be released at noon of Jan. 27, 2008.


“We can see that there is an admission of guilt on the part of the non-core group,” Bacarro said, in explaining the implication of the move taken by the 54 junior officers to enter into a plea bargain agreement.


“They pleaded guilty that they are part of the Magdalo group and this will have big implications to the core group,” he said.


The 54 junior officers were among 300 Magdalo soldiers who took over the posh Oakwood Premier serviced apartments and a nearby shopping center in Makati’s financial district in July 2003, rigging the area with bombs and demanding Ms Arroyo’s resignation.


They denounced government and military corruption, but were accused of staging a failed coup. They surrendered after the daylong uprising.


During plea bargaining in the Oakwood case, the 54 officers agreed to withdraw their previous pleas of not guilty to several charges, including mutiny and sedition. They also pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of military misconduct.


The deal was approved by the court-martial, which handed them the reduced jail term of four years and dishonorable discharge without benefits.


Among the leaders of the failed mutiny were former Navy lieutenant and now Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, Capt. Gerardo Gambala and Capt. Milo Maestrocampo. But these leaders were not among the 54 junior military officers who were ordered dishonorably discharged from the service.


Trillanes, who has since left the military service to run for a Senate seat in May, did not join the plea bargaining and remains in a military jail, fighting coup charges in civilian and military courts. He has asked for permission to attend Senate sessions, but there has been no court ruling yet.


Trillanes and 28 other junior military officers who are said to be the core group of the Magdalo were tried separately from the 61 junior military officers, which included the 54.


Bacarro said the general court-martial will continue hearing the case of the seven who did not join their 54 colleagues in reversing their original plea of not guilty.


He said the seven would still face the original charges of the five Articles of War. These include violation of Articles of War 63 (disrespect toward the President, Vice President, Congress or the Secretary of National Defense), 64 (disrespect toward a superior officer), 67 (mutiny or sedition), 96 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman) and 97 (conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline).


Another co-accused in the 2003 mutiny, former Army colonel Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, also won a Senate seat. The Department of Justice dropped a coup charge against him after he recently made peace overtures to Arroyo.


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