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53 ‘repentant’ Magdalo officers freed

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Arroyo commutes sentences

By Joel Guinto
Last updated 05:10pm (Mla time) 12/20/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Fifty-three junior officers from the mutinous Magdalo group that was behind a short-lived mutiny in 2003 were released from detention and discharged from the service on Thursday but found the door left open for their possible reinstatement.

This after President Gloria Macapagal-Order, in a general order issued on December 18, granted executive clemency to the 53 junior officers, for showing “deep remorse for their misdeeds and errors in judgment in imprudently participating in that regrettable incident [and] accepted the court martial’s verdict.”

“Whereas, these young officers, whether their actions were legitimate or not, had simply been motivated by their patriotism and had no selfish intent to personally profit from their conduct,” Arroyo said.

In the three-page directive, Arroyo ordered that the sentence of seven years and six months imprisonment and dishonorable discharge be “remitted to confinement until issuance of this order and discharge from the military service, without prejudice to separation benefits.”

The original sentence for dishonorable discharge forfeited the benefits of the officers.

The executive clemency effectively cut the jail term of the officers, which would have ended on January 27 next year. Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff, General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said Arroyo commuted the sentence to allow the former rebels to come home to their families for Christmas.

The 53 junior officers are among 54 Magdalo members who struck a plea bargain with a court martial last April. The court sentenced them to discharge from the service and seven years in prison. The jail term was cut by three years due to mitigating circumstances.

However, the release and discharge of Army First Lieutenant Patricio Bumidang Jr. was postponed to make him available as a state witness in the case of the other accused Magdalo officers, who are facing a separate set of charges, Esperon said.

They 54 officers who struck a plea bargain do not count the 29 Magdalo core leaders, 12 of whom were sentenced to dishonorable discharge in July after pleading guilty to violation of Article of War 96 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman). The sentence is awaiting Arroyo’s approval.

The 54 officers pleaded guilty to violation of Article of War 97 (conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline). In exchange the court dropped several other charges, including Article of War 67 (mutiny).

“Effective today [Thursday] they are released as civilians. They are separated from the service without prejudice to benefits that are due them,” Esperon told reporters, after meeting with the 53 officers behind closed doors in Camp Aguinaldo.

Esperon said “most, if not all” of the 53 officers wanted to be reinstated to the active service. He said he advised them to put this down in writing.

“We are not closing everything, all doors to this, so if there are indeed appeals then we will consider that,” the military chief said, as he warned, “It will be a very strict processing.”

Senior officers were assigned to each of the 53 former rebels, who would advise them on their options after their release, Esperon said.

Esperon said one of the 53, an Air Force junior officer, has landed a job as a commercial helicopter pilot. He said he would endorse the others who wanted jobs in the civilian sector.

“These officers have of course undergone some rigid training. They can be depended on as leaders…That should make them capable and competent citizens of the Philippines as civilians,” he said.

The President issued general order number 9 for the release of the officers on December 18, but it was implemented two days later due to “processing requirements,” Esperon said.

Esperon said the discharge of the officers sends a message that: “If you indeed commit infractions of the articles of war then you will be punished for it.”

Asked if there was a danger of reinstating former rebel soldiers, Esperon acknowledged that it was “possible” that they could be “recidivists”

“We don’t want to say that they will become recidivists, [but] that is possible indeed. That will be part of the considerations, especially in the light of the November 29, where we saw some recidivists not only for the second time, but for the third time,” he said.

The defiant Magdalo core leaders, led by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, walked out of their coup d’etat hearing at the Makati regional trial court on November 29, marched to the central business district, and overran the Manila Peninsula Hotel to press for Arroyo’s ouster for alleged corruption.

They were joined by a defense witness in their case, Brigadier General Danilo Lim, who is facing court martial over the alleged February 2006 coup plot. Lim also led the bloodiest coup attempt against the Aquino administration in December 1989.

The 300-strong Magdalo occupied the Oakwood luxury apartments in Makati City on July 27, 2003 to protest alleged corruption in government. In May 2005, 184 enlisted men who took part in the uprising were released after a plea bargain.

Originally posted at 11:10am

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Written by joelguinto

Thu+00:002007-12-20T04:47:23+00:00+00:0012b+00:00Thu, 20 Dec 2007 04:47:23 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am12

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