Thursday, July 20, 2006

One brave man

By Antonio C. Abaya
Manila Standard Today

RECENT events have proved at least one thing. Paraphrasing one American senator in the early 1980s who characterized us Filipinos as 60 million cowards afraid of one SOB, we can say that we may be a nation of 84 million cowards, but there is at least one brave man among us. Perhaps even two.

In a video clip that was meant to be telecast on ABC-5 last Feb. 24—at the height of recent efforts to overthrow President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo—but for obvious reasons was not aired until last week, (on another channel, ANC)—Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, commanding officer of the elite Scout Rangers regiment, read a statement that said in part that our country was now in…

“A crisis of extreme proportions. The entire system has broken down, thanks to a President whose legitimacy has been denied by a vast majority of the people.

“In her mad desire for power, she has corrupted and destroyed all institutions, she has promoted a policy of loot and plunder, while hypocritically announcing a war against corruption.”

She has corrupted Supreme Court justices, the Commission on Elections, the mass media, some members of the military, the police and the clergy, and teachers who counted the votes in the 2004 elections.

“Pursuant therefore to our constitutional duty as protector of the people and the State, we have today withdrawn our support from Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in order to end her unconstitutional and illegal occupation of the presidency.”

Lim also stated that the Armed Forces would monitor law and order and leave the business of running the government to “professionally competent, morally upright, patriotic, trustworthy and self-sacrificing Filipinos whom we now invite to form a new government” (All quotes attributed to Lim are from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 5).

I say Gen. Lim is, “perhaps,” a brave man because the video footage in which the above statements were made was scrapped from being telecast on Feb. 24, when he and his handlers thought their choreographed mutiny by Rangers, Marines and police Special Forces was not going to succeed, and was actually telecast some five months later when the government was building a legal case against him and his fellow-conspirators for coup d’état, mutiny or whatever.

Will he stand by his original denunciation of President Arroyo. Or will he now sing a different tune in order to save his skin? Is he a man or a mouse?

The person whom I would consider a brave man in this episode is Roy Señeres, former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (whom I first met in Abu Dhabi in 1996, when I was a guest of the UAE government).

Señeres has openly admitted his complicity in the effort to convince Gen. Lim and other disaffected military officers “to withdraw their support” from President Arroyo and her administration.

Said Señeres: “I admit it… There is nothing illegal, nothing immoral in what they did. You can’t do anything wrong if you’re fighting evil.

“I was one of those who encouraged Gen. Lim to withdraw support. I personally saw him and other officers of the AFP in the middle of last year.”

Señeres named some of those from the private sector whom he claimed were involved in the Feb. 24 plot: former Executive Secretary Oscar Orbos, former Defense Secretary Renato de Villa, ABC-5 chairman Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco, construction magnate F.F. Cruz Jr., and old-rich scion Iñigo Zobel.

“The reason I’m naming names is [that] they should come out in the open and admit [that] they encouraged Lim. What they did is patriotic. Why shouldn’t the military break the chain of command when the government is very crooked?

“My point is, all the backers of Gen. Lim should now come out in the open. They cannot fight evil under cover of darkness. If the President wants to put us in jail, let her try, but she can’t do it because we’re too many.”

Too many? Orbos and De Villa have denied any involvement in the alleged plot. So have businessmen Cruz, Cojuangco and Zobel (from the distant safety of Spain). If Señeres goes to jail for this, he may be all by his brave self, unless he elects to save his skin by turning state witness against his erstwhile coconspirators.

But, of course, some people will not believe these denials. Just as many did not believe the alibis of Peping Cojuangco and Pastor Saycon that they met with more than a dozen trapos and businessmen in the former’s house on Feb. 23, the evening before the projected Feb. 24 “withdrawal of support” by Gen. Lim and others, merely to discuss preparations for the 20th anniversary celebrations of Edsa 1.

According to Nelly Sindayen, Time Magazine’s Manila correspondent who was apparently invited to record the event for posterity so that the credits are properly attributed, Saycon talked on the phone to someone code-named Delta who, Sindayen said, was Gen. Lim. See my article A TIMEly Story of Feb. 28.

De Villa, for his part, was openly named last year as chairman of the “Solidarity Transition Council”—and was going around, telling media and others of his top billing in this council being stitched together by Boy Morales, chief political lieutenant of deposed President Joseph Estrada, which was/is meant to take over government once President Arroyo was overthrown.

De Villa was also quoted by the Inquirer that he would refuse to join this council if Communist Party of the Philippines founding chair Joma Sison were made a member of it. Which means there was indeed a move on the part of Morales (cofounder of the National Democratic Front) to include Sison, Morales’ former supremo in the communist movement, in Solidarity. No wonder Sison endorsed Solidarity and issued a statement that the CPP/NDF would rather negotiate with this future “transition council” than with the Arroyo administration.

But now that the Solidarity has been effectively squelched, Sison and his Utrecht mafia are frantically trying to resume negotiations with the Arroyo administration.

Continued Señeres: “I know for a fact [that] Orbos was offered a part in the transition council, I endorsed Orbos to head the transition council. I did not endorse De Villa because of his leadership style. He is teka-teka [indecisive].”

In the December 1989 coup attempt by Gringo Honasan and others against then-President Corazon Aquino, Iñigo Zobel and his late father Enrique were mentioned in media as among the many businessmen who supported the coup.

In that coup attempt, then Col. Danny Lim was in command of the Scout Rangers that took control of the Makati business district—specifically the Hotel Intercontinental and the Atrium Building on Makati Avenue—for several days. The coup fizzled out when two unmarked US Navy F-4 Phantom jets from Subic flew over Metro Manila and prevented the rebel air force, based in Sangley Point, from supporting the ground units that had taken over Makati.

Retired Maj. Abraham Puruganan, who was then Danny Lim’s second-in-command, said recently on TV that Gen. Lim was being used in 2006 by opposition trapos and businessmen the way he and Lim were used in 1989 by opposition trapos and businessmen. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Cojuangco is chair of ABC-5 and could not have but known of the existence of the tape even if he may have had nothing to do with its production. Said Señeres: “I know for a fact that [Cojuangco] tried to suppress the tape. He thought it won’t come out anyway, so we were all surprised it came out. But maybe a technician got [hold of] a copy and sold it to ABS-CBN.”

“Also, Felipe Cruz Jr. and Iñigo Zobel… They’re part of the withdrawal of support [plot]. I had a meeting with them in the mansion of F.F. Cruz in Forbes Park” (All quotes attributed to Señeres are from the Inquirer of July 6).

Roy Señeres is to be congratulated for his candor and bravery in admitting his participation in the plot, even if all his alleged coconspirators have denied theirs. It is Roy’s word against theirs. I believe Roy’s.

Señeres claims no crime was committed by the military rebels in plotting to withdraw support from the Commander-in-Chief, or by him and his alleged coconspirators in encouraging them to do so.

I am not a lawyer, but I do think that when a military officer withdraws his support, or plots to withdraw his support, from the c-in-c, that officer is committing an act of mutiny, or is planning to commit an act of mutiny, whether or not the plot succeeds.

Señeres is right. Under the present circumstances, encouraging withdrawal of support from an unpopular regime is a patriotic act. But only if it succeeds. If it fails, it becomes a criminal act. History and the Law are always written by the victors.

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