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Esperon dividing accused officers in foiled coup–sources

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But military chief denies claim

By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 16:49:00 04/10/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Military Chief General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. has allegedly been making overtures to junior officers facing court martial over the February 2006 coup, in an attempt to drive a wedge between them and their co-accused senior officers, according to a defense lawyer and military sources.

A member of Esperon’s staff, Major Cristobal Perez, have been talking to the junior officers twice since Thursday last week, asking them what the chief of staff could do for them, said lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles.

This was confirmed by sources in the Armed Forces who are not authorized to talk to media.

But the junior officers rejected the overtures, since they doubted the sincerity of Esperon’s alleged offer, Angeles said.

Sought for his reaction, Esperon denied the allegations but confirmed that Perez had met with some of the accused junior officers although it was a “meeting among friends” and their mutiny case was not discussed.

“I’m not offering them anything,” Esperon told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo on Thursday.

“I did not send him [Perez] there. They asked to talk to him. They talked, but I did not authorize anything,” he added.

In a statement to reporters, Perez said, “I went there for personal reasons. I had no ulterior motive and I was not sent as an emissary. I went there as an upperclassman, company mate, and fellow cavalier.”

Asked if he was open to a compromise deal with the officers implicated in the 2006 case, Esperon said: “I’m not entertaining that.”

“They must think that the junior officers are the soft spot,” Angeles said, noting that unlike the senior officers, the juniors have long careers in the military ahead of them once their cases were resolved and were reinstated in the service.

“There is an attempt to isolate the senior officers,” the first source said, adding that Esperon wanted to project a “father image” to the junior officers.

Of the 28 accused, 10 are junior officers, with ranks ranging from first lieutenant to captain. Of the 10, nine are from the Army Scout rangers while one is from the Marines, First Lieutenant Belinda Ferrer, who is also the only female accused.

Perez allegedly approached six of the accused — Captains Ruben Guinolbay, Montano Almodovar, Frederick Sales, Isagani Criste, James Sababan, and Joey Fontiveros, all of whom graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1994. Perez graduated from the PMA in 1993.

In a conversation with Almodovar, Perez allegedly said that Esperon wanted the case of the junior officers resolved before his three-month term extension would end on May 9.

“Parang sa Magdalo, makakalabas na yan bago bumaba si bosing [Like the Magdalo, they will be freed before the boss steps down,” Perez told Almodovar, according to the first source.

Perez was apparently referring to the case of junior officers from the Magdalo group that staged a short-lived mutiny in 2003, a faction of which had been freed from detention after they struck plea bargains or reversed their pleas before military courts.

The first source said the junior officers would not strike a deal with the military leadership “to save their skins.”

“We don’t see the sincerity. Why only now?” the source quoted one of the junior officers as saying.

“It’s been too long, what about the two years we spent in jail?” the junior officer asked, according to the source.

A second source said the junior officers rejected the overtures, since all of the accused believed that the military had no evidence to pursue their mutiny case before a court martial.

“They do not have any evidence. They are looking for people to use against us,” the second source quoted a senior accused officer as saying.

“We cannot make a compromise for ourselves, when the enlisted personnel were discharged,” the senior officer added, according to the source, referring to 40 Army enlisted men who were dismissed from the service without undergoing trial over their alleged involvement in the 2006 plot.

Angeles, who represents Guinolbay, claimed that Perez first approached the accused on the side of their court martial hearing in Camp Aguinaldo last April 3.

Perez told the junior officers that he was sent by the Chief of Staff to ask the court president, Major General Jogy Leo Fojas, what he could do for them, Angeles said.

“This means that he [Esperon] is directing the court martial,” Angeles said.

Perez visited the junior officers several days after the court hearing, and made the same overture, Angeles said. This was confirmed separately by the sources.

“They feel that they have been successful with the Oakwood nine,” Angeles said, referring to nine Magdalo junior officers who reversed their not guilty pleas before civilian and military courts.

The court martial sentenced the group to dishonorable discharge from the service. The civilian court sentenced Captains Gerardo Gambala and Milo Maestrecampo to life imprisonment. Seven others were meted up to 12 years in jail.

The 28 officers in the 2006 case are facing court martial over an alleged plot to withdraw support from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in February that year, amid allegations of vote-rigging and corruption.

Arroyo, allegedly with the help of military officers, including Esperon, supposedly orchestrated massive cheating operations to ensure her win in the 2004 elections over her chief rival, the late movie actor Fernando Poe Jr.

View article as posted on INQUIRER.net

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Written by joelguinto

ThuUTC2008-04-10T08:59:33+00:00UTC04bUTCThu, 10 Apr 2008 08:59:33 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am04

Posted in Uncategorized

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