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‘Turnaround of Magdalo members doesn’t detract from heroism’

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 15:09:00 04/04/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The junior officers who led a short-lived uprising in July 2003 may have gone their separate ways after five years in detention, but this should not overshadow the fact that they were among the first to expose the alleged ills of the Arroyo government, one of their lawyers said.

On Friday, Army First Lieutenants Lawrence San Juan, Nathaniel Rabonza, and Sonny Sarmiento reversed their not guilty pleas to the lone charge filed against them, violation of Article of War 96 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman), which is punishable with dishonorable dismissal from the service.

Two others, Second Lieutenants Jason Panaligan and Christopher Orongan, pleaded guilty to violation of Article of War 97 (conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline), in exchange for the dropping of more serious charges, including violation of Article of War 67 (mutiny).

“The fact that some of the cases end in a whimper does not detract from the heroism they displayed in Oakwood. That’s really the perspective here,” said lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles, who represents Marine Captain Nicanor Faeldon, who remains at large after escaping at the height of last year’s failed uprising in Makati City led by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, himself a Magdalo member.

“These are just various ways for them [Magdalo members] to deal with the consequences of their actions. The others remain [in detention] and they face trial because they believe in their innocence and they need to bring the truth to the public,” Angeles said.

“They believe they are right. They believe even the march of time doesn’t make them wrong,” Angeles said.

When the court martial, headed by Brigadier General Nathaniel Legaspi, promulgates the sentence on San Juan, Rabonza, Sarmiento, Panaligan, and Orongan at the next hearing, only 17 junior officers will remain to face the military tribunal, according to the lead prosecutor, Colonel Pedro Herrera-Davila.

Most of the 17, including Trillanes, are detained in Camp Crame, police general headquarters, for the November 2007 occupation of the Manila Peninsula Hotel in November 2007, for which they are facing rebellion charges.

“Talagang naubos na sila. Ang matititra na lang yung clients ko [They are all gone. All that remain are my clients],” she said.

Earlier this week, nine other junior officers, including two alleged ringleaders of the 2003 mutiny, Army Captains Milo Maestrecampo and Gerardo Gambala, reversed their not guilty plea before the Makati City regional trial court branch 148, which is trying 31 alleged Magdalo officers.

The Makati court is set to promulgate the case of the nine on Tuesday next week. The nine officers were among 12 who reversed their not guilty plea for violation of AW 96 in mid-2007. Their dishonorable discharge from the service is pending the approval of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as commander-in-chief.

In December 2007, Arroyo granted executive clemency to 53 junior officers, all former co-accused of Panaligan and Orongan, after they struck a plea bargain with the court martial.

The clemency set their release a month ahead of schedule.

In May 2005, 184 enlisted men who took part in the failed uprising were released after they struck a plea bargain. They were reinstated in the service but were demoted in rank by up to two steps and a portion of their salaries were forfeited.

Gambala and Maestrecampo represent the former mutineers, mostly from the Philippine Army, who have struck plea bargains or reversed their guilty pleas, and reaffirmed allegiance to Arroyo, whose government they accused of corruption when they seized the Oakwood luxury apartments in Makati City on July 27, 2003.

Trillanes and Faeldon, on the other hand, represent the faction of the Magdalo group that continues to defy government. Trillanes, a former Navy lieutenant, won a Senate seat in May 2007 while in detention, in what was seen as a protest vote against the President.

Faeldon first escaped in December 2005 and launched a civil disobedience campaign against the President before his capture the following month.

“Some people went to Oakwood; they know what the consequences were and they were ready to face them. What they’re doing is facing the consequences of their actions unflinchingly,” Angeles said.

“I think that’s something we forget because of the weariness of the trial, [the] grinding ordinariness of being in jail, we forget the original intention is to bring out the truth, and especially nowadays, we should also remember that they were the first to tell us what was going on. They were the first to tell us the truth,” he said.

View article as posted on INQUIRER.net

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Written by joelguinto

FriUTC2008-04-04T07:38:19+00:00UTC04bUTCFri, 04 Apr 2008 07:38:19 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am04

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