Roman Catholic bishops warned President Gloria Arroyo on Monday against granting a pardon to nine military officers convicted of mounting a failed coup five years ago. “The government will not win any brownie points here because the public is not in favor of it,” said Rodolfo Diamante, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference’s episcopal commission on prison pastoral care.
Top security officials on Sunday urged President Gloria Arroyo to pardon and reinstate nine junior army officers convicted of mounting a failed coup against her. A court handed out long jail sentences earlier this month to alleged leaders of the Magdalo military clique and 21 other officers are still on trial, while another is at large Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and military chief of staff General Hermogenes Esperon told reporters they have asked the president, who is the commander-in-chief of the security forces, to grant the convicted nine executive clemency and reinstate them.
There was no immediate reaction from the presidential palace. In 2003 the group led some 300 soldiers in taking over a luxury apartment-hotel in Manila’s Makati financial district and calling on Arroyo and her top generals to step down over alleged corruption. Their rebellion was put down in less than 24 hours. “These junior officers have suffered detention for four years and nine months and have shown remorse for their illegal acts and appealed for President’s pardon,” Esperon said. “These junior officers were led astray by wrong beliefs but have realized their grave mistakes,” he said.
“They are very talented soldiers and we would like to give them another chance to help the country move forward,” Esperon added. Teodoro also urged Arroyo to pardon and reinstate the nine, while Esperon dismissed suggestions a pardon would give the wrong signal and encourage similar malcontents in the military to rise up in future. The nine army officers have apologized for their rebellion and sought a pardon. “We know in our hearts that we are guilty and we accept the verdict of the court,” said Captain Gerardo Gambala in a statement issued by the nine.
“We undoubtedly made a mistake,” he said. “We apologize to the people … we ask for your forgiveness for our rebellion,”
Gambala, one of the ringleaders, confirmed the nine were “applying for pardon.” “We are not in a position to make a deal. We have nothing to offer, we have nothing to put on the table to make a deal,” he added. Gambala and Captain Milo Maestrocampo received life sentences while seven other officers received up to 12 years in jail on Tuesday for their short-lived mutiny in 2003.
The nine had earlier changed their pleas from “not guilty” to “guilty”, raising suspicions that they had forged a deal with the government in exchange for a swift pardon.
The group led some 300 soldiers in taking over a luxury apartment-hotel in Manila’s Makati financial district and calling on Arroyo and her top generals to step down over alleged corruption. Their rebellion was put down in less than 24 hours, and all ringleaders were arrested and detained. Arroyo subsequently freed most of the enlisted personnel, saying they were duped into joining the rebellion. Although many of those in the mutiny have since been freed, some of the key leaders are continuing to fight the case in both civil and military courts, insisting that they had legitimate grievances.
The mutineers, who call themselves the Magdalo fraternity, have drawn a certain amount of public sympathy. One of the ringleaders, ex-navy lieutenant Antonio Trillanes, last year won a Senate seat campaigning from behind bars. Political instability has often led to military adventurism in the Philippines. Former president Corazon Aquino survived several bloody coup attempts during her time in office.
In 2006, Arroyo crushed another coup plot and jailed at least two generals and several senior military officers who had withdrawn their support for her over allegations of corruption and vote rigging.