Dec 03

War freaks (updated)

My column for today (after a long absence due to illness) is War freaks. It features this photograph courtesy of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (update: so this is who he was!). Talking about photos, there are truly amazing panoramic shots (from right after the end of the whole thing) here (note the curious sight of bananas and a water bottle hidden in the wheel well of a Philippine Marines APC), and here (with everyone, media, cops, and soldiers, texting with wild abandon), and here (with Ricky Carandang looking dazed), in Inquirer.net.

Two stories I heard:

First, an anxious Filipino called up Singaporean business contacts who were in Manila, expecting the Singaporeans to be freaked out. The Singaporeans were, apparently, nonplussed: “We went into a meeting when it began and when the meeting ended, it was all over.”

Second, one person apparently overjoyed over the mayhem was someone who, a few months back, had had his laptop stolen out of his car while it was parked in the Peninsula parking lot. Upon inspection of the CCTV film, the person determined that the break-in into his car had been taped from beginning to end. The hotel refused to reimburse the man for his stolen laptop. So when the APC smashed into the hotel’s lobby, the person and his lawyer exchanged gleeful texts.

Let me repeat what I’ve said often enough in this blog and elsewhere. After the Marine standoff in Fort Bonifacio last year, a colleague said to me, “the country can’t afford more of this.” Much as it involves consciously tying one’s hands when officialdom feels no such qualms, I do think a national consensus of sorts exists. It’s a simple one: whatever resolution to the political problems of the country takes place, it can’t involve force of arms. The corollary to this is that even if it places an unfair burden on the opposition, the public’s expects that if the President is to go (and no, I don’t think many will really weep for her), she must be made to leave according to constitutional means. If that can’t be achieved, then by all means, hem her in, keep her on her toes, and narrow her options so that even if she wants to prolong her stay, she can’t. Anything beyond these parameters and a national consensus not only doesn’t exist, but no one will budge (the consensus being built on the understanding that the majority of people think they have better things to do than be engaged actively on either side, anyway).

You can either be impatient and rail over the limits this consensus has imposed, or take the longer view that well, maybe we have to wait until 2010 when the President will either leave no room for doubt she intends to stay, or she’ll go, and that relentless pressure on the president and her people will make it much more likely she will go in 2010 than try to stick around. In which case after six years of lost opportunities maybe the country can actually accelerate its improvement. That’s the price of democracy, no? Some may want to move faster, others, slower, but in the end we all must move at the pace the majority dictates.

So my first reaction to Trillanes’ move was, we can’t afford this sort of thing, again. I understand why he did what he did and why it may be that he had to do what he did -think of the scorpion and the frog. As Ricky Carandang wrote in his blog,

In the above cases, the systematic suppression of mechanisms to peacefully resolve legitimate grievance led people to look for extralegal solutions. As the grievances accumulate, the demands for restitution escalate. In cases where the processes provided resolution quickly within the law, the public was largely appeased and extralegal solutions were not resorted to.

But I don’t like it, I think he betrayed his mandate as a senator, which was to take his fight from the periphery into the heart of government, and I think he was foolish and those with him did the President a favor instead of doing anyone else any good. But I am equally upset with the fire-breathing statements of people who refuse to see why the clusterfuck was inevitable, and that the whole thing could have ended up far worse, if some cooler heads somewhere hadn’t prevailed.

I think the Inquirer editorials had it right: in saying Trillanes committed political suicide, but also, that the administration’s proven itself incorrigible. In his blog, Mon Casiple points out something interesting:

Oakwood has now come a full circle. However, the political context of the present Manila Pen is different than the one in 2003. Then, GMA was at the height of her power, with a comfortable positive public opinion, the support of the majority of the middle class, and with considerable international goodwill. Now, she is facing an increasingly lameduck presidency, a deep distrust of her government among significant sectors, including the middle class, and buffeted by accusations of human rights violations abroad.

The country has entered the period of the transition to the post-GMA political situation. The immediate struggle revolves around the question of who will manage this transition. Logically in our democracy, the president–holding the reins of power–presides over this transition. However, in GMA’s case, this is forfeit because of her political weaknesses.

The Manila Pen incident follows closely on the heels of dramatic and violent events such as the Batasan bombing. A case can be made that incidents such as these fit into the present context of the political transition. Including nonviolent political events such as the LP and NP mediamatic non-proclamation of presidential candidacies, these collectively affirm that relevant political forces in the Philippines are on the march and are staking out their various positions.

I do not think the Manila Pen incident itself meant the end of the military rebels’ own plans; it may be the beginning. However, a much more interesting possibility is the use of their movement for political maneuvering vis-a-vis the contest for the role of transition manager.

On hindsight, what Senator Trillanes and company did in Manila Pen was either a stupid and unrealistic bid for a people-powered downfall of the GMA administration or a brilliant probing attack in a much more complicated strategy. There were simply many disconnects in the event that prevented the achievement of the announced objective to topple the current power in Malacañang. Firstly, there was no evident pre-synchronization of various potential or actual sympathetic forces. Secondly, there was no provision–either in warm bodies or logistics–for a long-drawn siege. It seems, they want to end the drama as it actually did–when the government forces started its counterattack in earnest. Thirdly, there were no observable mobilization of sympathetic military forces beyond the small group that accompanied Senator Trillanes to the Manila Pen. AFP chief of staff Hermogenes Esperon’s assertion of having prevented this from happening cannot simply be be taken at face value given the extent of discontent and ferment in the camps (as shown in the Trillanes protest vote in the last elections).

Let me jot down some notes about what took place last Thursday. A good digest of the day’s events, and various reactions (official and private, including the statement of Manila Peninsula’s PR guy; what no one will say on the record, is that the hotel only got control of the property back on Friday morning, and there are allegations of the cops looting the hotel and partying it up in the rooms: the rebels had occupied only one function room and brought along their own provisions of bread and sardines; it would help if the authorities could debunk these shocking allegations) can be found in Wikipedia’s Manila Peninsula mutiny page. Entertaining live blogging took place at Uniffors. Minute-by-minute account in The Philippine Experience. A journalist’s account is over in Newsbreak.

1. WTF?

So, as reason is the reason eloquently asked, WTF was Trillanes thinking? After the fact, it’s easy to think it was a cockamamie scheme, but I’m not so sure it was, at least from the start. Definitely, it unraveled quickly.

The whole thing could have been nipped in the bud but it wasn’t. A week before (November 20, page A18 of the PDI and also, in the Star) , full-page ads had been taken out in the papers by a certain “Filipino Democratic Nationalist Reform Movement” which has a website and which basically urged the armed forces to rise up; and ominous statements were issued the day before. So no one can doubt there was premeditation here, but that unlike previous efforts, the whole thing was cooked up by a relatively small group, which managed to remain uncharacteristically tight-lipped until the walkout actually began.

Definitely, what Trillanes and Lim were after was the tearing down of the constitutional order, and its replacement with a junta. And they seem to have done pretty complete staff work in that regard (see also Transition group eyed had Trillanes succeeded, says document). The problem is, their plan scared the bejeezus out of people in 2006, why wouldn’t it scare the bejeezus out of people in 2007? And it seems obvious enough that if they wanted to score publicity points for taking something over, why didn’t they take over the Batasan Pambansa? Or hole up in the Department of Justice? See The Journal of the Jester-in-Exile with regards to the tactics (or lack of them) demonstrated that day.

Anyway, as I wrote in my column, the moment I saw that guy with a wig, I knew it would fail, and when some friends texted me at the time, I told them as much. But there were two or three things that made me wonder if Trillanes and Lim actually had some sort of method behind their madness.

The first thing that struck me was something virtually unprecedented, and that was, the eery silence on the part of the military’s top brass. Never mind Esperon seemingly being caught by surprise, and having to rush back to Manila (the President, too). It was the hours that passed without the expected parade of generals vowing loyalty to the government taking place on TV. At the height of it, the best that government could do was allow reporters to broadcast from an unusually quiet Camp Aguinaldo to basically say, the armed forces could be counted out of the whole thing.

This was something Randy David caught onto, in his Saturday column:

But, if indeed they were alone in this doomed and foolish adventure, how do we explain the fact that, at the height of the standoff, no military commander, apart from the chief of staff, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr., came out or was presented to reiterate support for the Arroyo government? Why did the government rely exclusively on police forces to deal with what was openly declared as a bid to remove the existing government? Was Ms Arroyo afraid that, if compelled to declare their loyalty, a good number of the nation’s soldiers might actually side with Lim and Trillanes?

In short, what did the silence of the camps during this six-hour siege signify? I doubt if General Esperon or Ms Arroyo knows. Perhaps if they know anything at all about the state of mind of the soldiers in the camps today, it might be something that is likely to give them sleepless nights in the next few weeks or months. Could this be the real reason for the sudden imposition of a midnight curfew — that they are seriously spooked by the possibility of troop movements quietly taking place in the coming days?

For it is hard to believe that the soldiers barricaded in their barracks would not care less about what was going on in Makati City last Thursday. If they saw what the rest of the nation saw, and they remained silent, I would consider that a meaningful silence. In a time like ours, when images from live media pack more power than the most stirring statements, what might the silence of citizens and soldiers possibly indicate? Are their senses stunned and their will paralyzed? Or are their souls shaken and courage awakened in their hearts? Who knows?

Whenever an event of this sort takes place, the public takes a wait-and-see attitude, but what’s unexpected is for the military to so obviously adopt the same posture. And it was a posture that, on the whole, they maintained: permitting the military to do so betrayed the disquiet and unease the government felt. Loyalty checks are par for the course; what’s not is that no obvious result could be announced until crucial hours had passed. This is significant because of something I’ll get into, in my next point.

2. War freaks

The President herself is reported to have insisted the hotel should be invaded by 2:30 pm; I can only surmise that people within the administration undercut their commander-in-chief and calmer heads prevailed. Utak pulbura is objectionable whichever side succumbs to it: if you will castigate Trillanes and Lim, then castigate, too, all the chest-beating people demanding that the whole thing should have ended in gunfire. For if it had reached that point, then a vicious spiral would have been the inevitable result. We should recognize that if reports are true, that the President was demanding a swift and violent end to the whole thing, the armed forces declined to do so, and that the police, despite their bravura, also held off using maximum force and allowed things to deflate on their own.

As Roby Alampay, a Filipino journalist based in Bangkok wrote,

Trillanes is not the charismatic personality that the international media may have perceived. For someone who graduated near the top of his Philippine Military Academy class, he’s perceived by many Filipinos as reckless, unthinking, and – worst yet for someone who holds hotels hostage just for the moral victory of having a press conference – he’s fairly inarticulate.

It takes everybody who appears around him – priests, actors, the media, activists – to express the moral campaign that Trillanes offers himself up for, but ultimately cannot lead. Given this assessment, the government made a quick call based on the bet that, even in the worst case scenario, Trillanes, who may have the sentiment of certain junior officers, has never been able to muster crowds, was not going to be martyred…

…Trillanes on the campaign trail represented pure unadulterated contempt for her administration and everything that makes people exasperated with her presidency: corruption, ambition, a thick hide to criticism.

To this day, that’s what Trillanes stands for, and in the aftermath of Thursday’s events that’s all he still represents. Regardless, however, of how small a player Trillanes really is in the grand scheme of things – at best, he’s been seen as an unwitting pawn – what he does symbolize is nothing to totally scoff at. Indeed what makes him dangerous is that he’s the stubborn voice for what people have frankly gotten tired of wailing about.

And yet most Filipinos are now simply resigned to riding out her term until the next elections are held 2010. Two impeachment attempts against her have failed thanks to the corrupted politics and politicians she’s co-opted – some say threatened – in Congress. Last week former president Fidel Ramos, formerly an Arroyo supporter said for all to hear: “Nobody likes Gloria, but what choice do we have?”

Many Filipinos grudgingly take that as a valid point. There are indicators that Arroyo has the economy – or at least the business community – on her side. The Philippine peso is the second strongest performing Asian currency this year, next only to the Indian rupee. The day after Trillanes was arrested, the government announced that Philippine gross domestic product growth for the whole of 2008 would likely hit 7%, overshooting all predictions at the start of the year.

What festers, however, is the feeling that democracy-crazy Filipinos are selling their souls for long-missed stability. Trillanes will never be the center or leader of any new People Power movement. But whenever he’s on the news, Filipinos are reminded that as inconvenient and unsophisticated as this soldier is, the people’s bigger moral issue will still be with Arroyo: the president who they believe was caught red-handed rigging her own election; whose husband they believe was caught red-handed rigging his own multi-billion-peso government contracts; whose government has shown contempt for free expression, human rights and, yes, democracy.

To be sure, it was appropriate and necessary, from government’s point of view, to keep up the pressure, and it was a brilliant move to send in the APC’s to trundle around the Peninsula lobby while refraining from spraying the lobby with high-caliber bullets. The use of tear gas was, tactically speaking, absolutely correct, too: if you can smoke ’em out, why expend ammo? Not least because, if anyone had died, the fence-sitters in the military might just have decided to move, either way.

Yet the inconclusive results of the government inquest also points, I think, to insecurity on the government’s part, it’s still feeling its way to see how far public opinion will let it go. To be sure, I think even during the whole snafu, attempts were being made to lay the case for the prosecution: the firing of warning shots complete with claims the rebels fired back, established the basis for charges of rebellion and not just sedition to be filed.

What was truly frightening was that on one hand, Trillanes and Lim obviously believe a junta is desirable, but also, that the pressure to bomb the rebels to Kingdom Come or have sort of slaughter to end the whole thing, was so intense on the government side. Even more discouraging is that at the moment of success, the administration set about skillfully snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It flexed its muscles, against easy targets (the media, by rounding them up; the public, by imposing a curfew) when the lesson of the day was how a senator, a general, some loyal soldiers and some geriatric fans, had the entire country guessing if the government might fall like some overripe fruit from the tree.

Amando Doronila I think has it right, when he wrote, today,

The Peninsula insurrection may have collapsed, but the grievances that drove the rebels to desperate action remain smoldering underneath unless addressed seriously. The crisis has revealed Malacañang had lost control of coping with emergencies to security forces which determined how to crush rebellions their own way.

There are more than enough grievances to feed plots inside the military to seize power. The more serious plotters have learned the lesson that they can’t seize power by turning their guns at hotels. The next time around, the guns will be blazing at Malacañang.

That’s what the failures of Trillanes and Lim at the Oakwood and Peninsula mutinies have taught us. Ms Arroyo is hostage to the guns of her praetorian guard which she had unleashed at Peninsula.

Doronila’s warning can be made, because cooler heads prevailed and prevented a blood bath; had any killings taken place, there wouldn’t be time or opportunity to even make such a warning, an insurrection would already be taking place. And it’s worth pondering just how eagerly not just some officials, but members of the public, wanted it to come to that. Though Torn and Frayed says maybe the hard-liners have a point:

Yet, although I’m glad that Ayala didn’t run with blood yesterday, maybe the “hang ’em high” mob at Carlos Celdran’s blog has a point. If life in the Philippines was more “serious”, if people faced real consequences for their actions, perhaps they might think twice before doing these things, and surely you wouldn’t have to think more than that to realize the how absurd and ridiculous yesterday’s events were.

Tales of a Backpacker said it well:

The Manila Peninsula siege has elevated civil rights violations to a higher degree, and we all forgot to raise our voice against it because we were so busy demanding a state-sponsored human rights violation – the killing of Sen. Antonio Trillanes and his supporters. We even heckled the media for crying foul over their arrests. Crybabies! Wimps!

We all lost our freedom to travel for five hours (or imbibe alcohol till the wee hours on a Friday night), and none of us complained.

3. On the media

Everyone loves to hate ABS-CBN and nothing riles up the public more, than to be reminded by the media, how essential media is. All the grousing about how media overreacted -or that government overreacted to media’s stubborn refusal to vacate the Peninsula- is essentially an insular discussion. Even if ABS-CBN had left, there would have been, at the very least, up to ten journalists affiliated with foreign news organizations who’d have stuck it out to the bitter end. They included, the Philippine correspondent of the Japanese NHK, of Bloomberg News, a member of a TV news crew of the Associated Press, etc. This is a crucial point: even if the natives had fled, the natives working for foreign media outfits would have remained, which only goes to show their staying was, from a newsman’s point of view, anyway, the legitimate thing to do. By all means, if you have a bone to pick with media at home then what about those who operate according to international standards of the profession? They stayed. See Torn and Frayed’s thoughts on this score:

The original response to the latest stunt from Trillanes and his Magdalo group could easily be justified–meeting violence (and despite what Trilllanes claims, armed men taking over a hotel seems like violence to me) with overwhelming force. If the government had allowed Trillanes to dictate terms–as Gringo Honasan has so often tried to do during similar capers–it would have been disastrous.

Ramming a tank into the hotel entrance and firing off rounds of machine gun fire that could be heard a mile away seems over the top, but the officers charged with ending the siege had to make a lot of difficult on-the-spot decisions so perhaps they deserve the benefit of the doubt, especially as the three main objectives–the end of the siege, the arrest of Trillanes, and no bloodshed–were achieved.

However, the government’s reaction since the ending of the siege a couple of hours ago seems loopy. What is to be gained by arresting and handcuffing a bunch of journalists and members of the ABS-CBN technical crew and carting them off to Bicutan? No-one on TV has come up with a plausible explanation for why such an apparently counterproductive move might be a good idea. As Maria Ressa just said on air, these arrests were illegal and inconsistent with democracy.

If that was bad, Interior and Local Secretary Ronaldo Puno’s announcement of 12 midnight –5am curfew is incomprehensible. All it will achieve is to invest Trillanes’s weak and self-centred band with much more importance that they deserve and to add to the feeling of uncertainty in the capital, rather than helping to dissipate it as soon as possible.

But did media cross the line, in going from covering the story, to becoming the story? And what about the obvious sympathies held by some media people there, for the rebels? Here’s a memo Hunter S. Thompson wrote in 1972, and recently republished in Harper’s Magazine (November 2007):

I still insist “objective journalism” is a contradiction in terms. But I want to draw a very hard line between the inevitable reality of “subjective journalism” and the idea that any honestly subjective journalist might feel free to estimate a crowd at a rally for some candidate the journalist happens to like personally at 2,000 instead of 612–or to imply that a candidate the journalist views with gross contempt, personally, is a less effective campaigner than he actually is. Hubert Humphrey, for instance: I don’t mind admitting that I think sheep dip is the only cure for everything Humphrey stands for. I consider him not only a living, babbling insult to the presumed intelligence of the electorate, but also a personally painful mockery of the idea that Americans can learn from history. But if Hubert meets a crowd in Tampa and seventy-seven ranking business leaders each offer him $1,000 for his campaign, I will write that scene exactly as it happened-regardless of the immense depression it would plunge me into. No doubt I would look around for any valid word or odd touches that might match the scene to my bias. If any of those seventy-seven contributors was wearing spats or monocles I would take care to mention it. I would probably follow some of them outside to see if they had AMERICALOVE IT OR LEAVE IT bumper stickers on their cars. If one of them grabbed a hummingbird out of the air and bit its head off, I think it’s safe to say I would probably use that-but even if I did all that ugly stuff, and if the compilation of my selected evidence might persuade a reader here and there to think that Humphrey was drawing his Florida support from a cabal of senile fascists, well, I probably wouldn’t get much argument from any of the “objective” journalists on the tour, because even the ones who would flatly disagree with my interpretation of what happened would be extremely reluctant to argue that theirs or anyone else’s was the flat objective truth. On the other hand, it’s also true that I will blow a fact here and there.

That being said, was media being petulant? Yes. But only if past precedents shouldn’t matter; not in 1987 or 1989, or in 2001 or 2003 was media rounded up in this way. But of course government can change its mind, the way it’s kept scrapping all the past conventions on what was permissible behavior -but since it unilaterally scrapped the old rules, don’t expect anyone from the profession to thank government.

Might, after all, makes right. That’s the only lesson here. It would be wrong, I think, to confuse that with the “rule of law,” because the official excuses were insulting to the intelligence (much as media’s screeching was offensive to the law-and-order types who later hailed the curfew because, God darnit, it kept them thar people from goin’ a drunkin’).

If the idea was, as proclaimed by the police, to separate the rebels from the everyone else, then by all means round up all the men, but there was really no reason to round up the women and confiscate everyone’s cameras and tapes. Again, obviously the government was frustrated it couldn’t control information, and part of it was it’s own ambivalence over what to do. A kick-ass president would have sent shock troops to the stations to deliver an ultimatum, and quite possibly the public would have cheered; a more sagacious president would have thanked her lucky stars and crowned victory with sending biscuits to the reporters; a flip-lopping president leaves the law-and-order types frustrated that the media simply weren’t exterminated, and the media with its hackles raised: and, in terms of government p.r. purposes, the story being sidelined by media’s very public exploration of its navel.

Anyway, with the New Order it’s just as well Gov’t, media to meet over ‘rules of engagement’ in coverages.

4. My personal view

Something I quoted from Rizal in my column on May 1, 2006, comes to mind:

All the petty insurrections that have occurred in the Philippines were the work of a few fanatics or discontented soldiers, who had to deceive and humbug the people or avail themselves of their powers over their subordinates to gain their ends. So they all failed. No insurrection had a popular character, or was based on a need of the whole race, or was fought for human rights or justice; so it left no ineffaceable impressions … when they saw that they had been duped, the people bound up their wounds and applauded the overthrow of the disturbers of their peace! But what if the movement springs from the people themselves and based its causes upon their woes?

What strikes me is not that the enterprise ended up failing, but that there seemed a moment when they actually seemed poised to carry it off. Personally, much as my instincts were that it was doomed, in retrospect I think the thing wasn’t doomed to failure until it became obvious that what Gen. Lim et al. had in mind was a junta. At that moment -when Gen. Lim made cryptic comments about a new leadership arising- the scheme’s chances for success, already slim, swiftly collapsed. If national salvation, as Lim and Trillanes saw it, would be in the vanguard hands of the armed forces, then no one had any further incentive either to risk their necks or offer support: live by the sword, die by the sword. As far as this is concerned, I think Uniffors said it best:

I didn’t go rushing to Makati to demonstrate my support for the group because I don’t support juntas. And both Trillanes and Lim were strangely quite about what sort of government would replace Mrs. Arroyo had they succeeded in overthrowing her yesterday.

The presence of junta advocates like former UP president Dodong Nemenzo at the scene turned me off.

The most dangerous threat to democracy is a coalition between ideologues and men in uniform, no matter how pure of heart they are.

When a group like that takes over government, civil liberties and human rights take the back seat…

Trillanes and Lim could have drawn the crowds if only they used the occasion to call for a snap election following the resignation of Mrs. Arroyo and Noli de Castro. Unfortunately, they chose not to.

Of course this is just my opinion, but my column stemmed from my belief that there’s a lot of after-the-fact chest-thumping from born-again supporters of the administration: born again, because they were shitting in their pants when things seemed unclear. Kudos to those who made up their minds for or against, early on, and have stuck to their guns, whether in derision or admiration for Trillanes and Co. But I don’t think they represent, either way, the majority view. And that was: while no one moved to support the rebels, no one moved to defend the administration, and for the hour or so things could possibly have gone either way, the overwhelming public response was a deep ambivalence.

As The Economist commented,

In hindsight the mini-coup seems ridiculously ill-considered, but its failure to pose a real threat was mostly due to public disinterest rather than any dramatic improvement in the government’s popularity….

But it would be a mistake to interpret the failure of the mini-coup as a popular vote of confidence in the government. The problems facing Ms Macapagal Arroyo have actually increased significantly over the past couple of months, largely owing to allegations of corruption surrounding the negotiation of a contract for a national broadband network. For reasons that have not been fully explained, an agreement between the governments of China and the Philippines awarded the contract to the ZTE Corp of China–even though companies from the US and the Philippines submitted substantially lower bids. Ms Macapagal Arroyo cancelled the contract in October, but the negotiations raised questions of possible graft that still have the potential to trigger her removal from power.

The failure of what was probably their final bid to remove the president from power using legal means has also infuriated the president’s opponents. In October a third attempt to impeach Ms Macapagal Arroyo fell at the first hurdle–as did the two previous ones, in 2005 and 2006. The administration, through the dominance of pro-government parties in the House of Representatives (the lower house), has a comfortable majority on the justice committee that vets any impeachment file before it is presented to the full lower house. Owing to the fact that the constitution bans consideration of more than one impeachment charge within a 12-month period, the president will not face another charge until October 2008.

With their legal avenues of opposition now effectively blocked, increasingly frustrated opposition groups may be more likely to take to the streets. Eventually, one such attempt could pose a serious threat to the government. For now, though, the failure of Messrs Lim and Trillanes to spark a popular rebellion suggests that the country is far from being a dry tinderbox of discontent.

Disquieting, too, are murmurs that the problem was not what Trillanes did, but that he literally jumped the gun. As Asia Sentinel reports,

But as silly as seizing power via hotel lobbies may seem, it was not a spur of the moment action, but rather a well planned move, political analyst Earl Parreno told the Asia Sentinel, judging from the fact that the detained soldiers found quick access to high-powered guns.

“Their goal was the same as their goal during the mutinies of 2003 and 2006 — a military action supported by civilians to topple the government. People power, in other words,” says Parreno.

However, “the move was premature.” The analyst says that, based on his informants, an action such as what took place Thursday was being planned for the first quarter of 2008. This would have given the opposition time to create further social unrest so that their move would generate sufficient civilian support, which would, in turn, encourage the military top brass to withdraw their support from the government — the tipping point in Philippine-style uprisings.


5. Other views

And there’s a kind of raw nerve the failed caper struck: my choice for book for the week suggests that we’re not far off from the Japanese, in at least admiring those who fail but go down, guns blazing. In a country starved for heroism, Trillanes couldn’t even commit hara-kiri, and I think quite a lot of people are madder about that than over anything he specifically did.

Tongue in, Anew, however, takes a different look at the whole thing (and a fascinating exploration of the military mentality, too):

Any marketing professional knows his AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. The four stages are carefully designed, complete with fall-backs, auto-responses and scripted pitches very much like those annoying telemarketers who drive you crazy because they are saying all the right things you are left with just all the lame excuses, if not buying their products right then and there! In the end, you may not realize it but you find yourself agreeing with them.

This is the pattern I read in these activities. Why repeat where you failed before? The idea is not that you are expected to act immediately, the Trillanes-Lim plan works much like a raingauge. It is a method of measurement, at the same time it rubs in, or more significantly, nails in, in a calculated manner the ideals of the movement, what it aims to achieve, how it plans to get there. Later, it provides the details how your personal involvement will make it necessary for the movement – the social transformation of the country – to succeed with everybody else in. Not just the elite politicians.

The reactionary government saw it the way I did, they know the unheeded call to gather at Manila Pen was not the end of it. They knew the act had to be sustained by forces not limited to the incarcerated officers or the commands they previously held. The “A” has been achieved and the “I” is about to begin. What keeps Malacañang guessing is the timetable of the execution. Is the “Interest”-soliciting group coming out hours after Peninsula? Or the next day? Or the next month? They didn’t have many choices so they took the more conservative option, also the less-riskier one: to assume that the next wave will happen in the next hours or probably coincide with the next day’s Bonifacio Day rallies, hence, the declaration of curfew and setting up of roadblocks and intensified checkpoints.

It would be foolish to assume Trillanes and company didn’t know how gov’t would react, blockade of absolutely all roads leading to Manila Pen IS the elementary response!

What they didn’t know is that, in the ongoing word war between the incarcerated officers in Fort Bonifacio and Tanay on one hand versus Esperon and his camp on the other, it was jellyfish Esperon who will turn sissy first and hide his tail between his legs.

A few weeks ago, Esperon had been provoked by the Tanay group of Querubin, Miranda and Lim to tell all about Hello Garci and his cheating participation as a response after he tried to scare them that he will come out with the video of Lim’s supposed announcement of declaration of their withdrawal of support in February of 2006. Nakakalalaki na ang hamunan. Who will blink first?

Lim did it again, this time live on national TV while clueless Esperon was watching (adoring?) his new recruit, Manny Pacquiao, on the latter’s first military service day somewhere in Mindanao. Lim’s act in Peninsula, therefore, was a continuance of their challenge to Esperon to come clean with the charges of cheating in Hello Garci. Lim et al have done their part, it was now up to Esperon to do his. Esperon defaulted. As far as Lim and Trillanes are concerned, their score with Esperon has been settled, they are the macho soldiers, Esperon was the weakling. And they did it even if they were under heavy guards. A big open-palm slap on Esperon’s face.

Anyway, a roundup of other bloggers’ opinions is in Global Voices Online.

And for those upset with Trillanes, here’s not one, but two, online petitions: Expel Tonyo Trillanes From The Senate (42 signatures) and Condemn the Mutiny at the Manila Peninsula (132 signatures), via Now What, Cat?. Get clickety-clicking if you’re mad, because so far many more signed the Calling for the immediate resignation of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Noli de Castro and for the Holding of Special (“Snap”) Elections within 60 days petition (3,469 as of this posting; apparently. Ang Kapatiran added its voice for resignation around the time of the Peninsula Caper).

And a student leader’s view: Ateneo de Manila Sanggunian President: Statement on the Manila Peninsula Siege.

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  1. cvj

    Welcome back Manolo! Take it easy.

    So that’s the guy in the wig.

  2. ay_naku

    Welcome back to our Dear Host. Hope you’re feeling much better.

  3. Kelvin

    Good to have you back!
    There was a lot of stuff that happened while you were away and we were waiting for your thoughts on the matter hehe… (i.e. Trillanes standoff, Media arrests, etc.)

  4. ay_naku

    Agree about the galling statements of Vivian Yuchengco. Gusto kong batuhin ng sapatos nung naririnig ko sya magsalita sa TV.

  5. mlq3

    thanks, all. i’ll be expanding this entry as the day goes on.

  6. sparks

    i was getting worried about you. relieved you’re back!

  7. mari

    looking forward to reading your write up on the recent coup attempt.

  8. qwert

    Welcome back Manolo and good health to you!

  9. vic

    Nice to see you good and healthy again. Just recovered from a nasty cold myself and we’re having an early burst of “la nina” and very cold early winter.

    As for the habits of kicking one while being down, that also demonstrates the helplessness of the people, hence the opportunity and also the tendency of most the go with the wave, lest they get drown going against.

    But to me, Trillanes is one of the symptoms, there are many others of the sickness. To cure the illness, follow the symptoms and will lead you to the patient.

  10. amee

    Hi Manolo.

    Welcome back.

    I was wondering if you were on vacation since there was no entry about the Manila Penn drama. I hope you’re feeling much better.

  11. Joselito Basilio

    Welcome back, Manolo!

  12. micketymoc

    I find it interesting, though, that the hooting took place the moment the government proclaimed victory, and not a moment before.

    (taas kilay) Mmmmreally? Maybe you should check with other sources before saying something so patently easy to debunk. On my end, the hooting began long before the siege ended. (On text and YM both!)

    Rina Jimenez David said something almost equally myopic – that people “rarely” reacted with anger to the news. At least she qualified her statement by saying that “it might be indicative of the circles I move in.” So true.

    Might the lateness of the “hooting” you heard be more indicative of the circles you move in, Manolo, not of society in general?

  13. coward

    Might the lateness of the “hooting” you heard be more indicative of the circles you move in, Manolo, not of society in general?

    certainly, shows that you can not be in two places at a time and you can not be biased towards the same two opposite sides and you can only express opinions and views you can honestly vouch for no matter if others can debunk them easily… meaning stand by your principles and humbly accept your mistakes when proven wrong instead of stubbornly staying put using all the power that be and mocking others while they are down.

    History were not kind to those that were arrogant in their heights of power like the Marcosses, The Eraps, Nixon, Mary Antoinette, Sadam, etc and you may add a few in the future right in the “ang Bayang kong Pililipinas” sooon!!!

  14. micketymoc

    Hanep sa segue ah. Ano naman ang katuturan ng mga Marcos sa timing ng “hooting” na narinig ni Manolo?

  15. R.O.

    Hello mlq3! The local political blogging world is so empty without you. So please stay alive and well and keep on blogging.

  16. coward

    Hanep sa segue ah. Ano naman ang katuturan ng mga Marcos sa timing ng “hooting” na narinig ni Manolo

    nothing…nothing, but the same hooters will quickly hoot different tunes or will be silent like the lambs if and when the “other side” suceeds or they will hoots for the other side this time. like Erap said wether, wether lang ang manga yan…

  17. BrianB

    For all Trillanes’ fuming, the only honorable thing to do is die there at Manila Pen. Why even bother one more time when you only end up back in jail. We were humiliated as a nation because he surrendered.

  18. mlq3

    mickety, possibly. but you can also look at time stamps from comments people were leaving all over the place, during, and after. bully for you if you expressed yourself during the goings-on but a lot of chest-thumping i think took place to over-compensate after the fact.

  19. Willy

    One look at the guy with the wig gives gives me an idea dying was not part of the plan. Or maybe its just the new thing in protective headgear?

  20. BrianB

    Wouldn’t it have been more effective if Trillanes went to Edsa instead? Not out in the open where they would’ve been shot but in the chapel.

  21. The Equalizer

    Welcome back Manolo! ingat!

  22. The Equalizer

    “For all Trillanes’ fuming, the only honorable thing to do is die there at Manila Pen. Why even bother one more time when you only end up back in jail. We were humiliated as a nation because he surrendered.Brian B”

    True! He was no Ninoy!

  23. Jeg

    For my part, I did my ‘hooting’ when I first heard of it and stopped after it all fell apart. There was this whole Don Quixote-ish tilting at windmills about the whole thing that was easy to hoot at while it was going on, but the tragedy was also easy to recognize when it was over. That was the general trend here in the place where I work. Now nobody here even talks about it anymore.

    (Welcome back, MLQ3.)

  24. micketymoc

    “you can also look at time stamps from comments people were leaving all over the place, during, and after.”

    You make it clear in your column that you’re not only referring to blog comments, but to text messages too. Trust me, the text messages and YM’s I was getting before the siege were anything but complimentary. Lots of us who weren’t fooled by Trillanes, Manolo, were “hooting” long before the government “proclaimed victory”.

    “a lot of chest-thumping i think took place to over-compensate after the fact.”

    That’s a matter of opinion, Manolo, and unless you can substantiate that, I think it’s a statement that falls squarely within Harry Frankfurt’s field of expertise. 😉

  25. The Equalizer

    In a resolution that she plans to submit for action , Senator Santiago said: “The Senate committee on ethics and privileges should meet immediately and recommend the proper punishment for Senator Trillanes for disorderly behavior and unparliamentary acts and language, including, if necessary, his suspension or expulsion from the Senate.”

    (Today, the police arrested Ernesto Maceda, a former ambassador to the United States and intensified a hunt for two other opposition leaders, Senator Gregorio Honasan and Panfilo Lacsan, a former police chief. Another senator, Miriam Santiago, was added to the list of those to be detained,for inciting people to revolt in EDSA 3 .New York Times,May 3 ,2001)

  26. coward

    Is Trillanes a Brave Man, A Coward (like my handle) a Hero, A Goat, A Fake, a Genuine, A Pretender or for Real. Take your pick, only him knows who he is. But not a single person in the country will dare as of this moment take the Lady and risk his balls for getting shot, going to jail or he is lucky offered a handsome sum to keep his peace and disappear in some foreign land and let the lady President go on unhindered with her march to the First World, eradicating Poverty, and getting rid of the NPA insurgency by 2010 and also going abroad procuring loans for the “economic development” of the country with l50 “muchachos and muchachas tagging along.

    Dying for a cause? We can give an example of Ninoy, Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, but these heroes had no choice, so is Trillanes, he could had been dead too for not being brave, only fate let him alive and nobody knows only to come back another day…

  27. BlogusVox

    Miketymoc, dahan-dahan lang. Keep in mind MLQ3 is still recovering. His not yet 100% focus.

    “I think it’s a statement that falls squarely within Harry Frankfurt’s field of expertise.” That’s a gasser. LOL!

  28. Silent Waters

    Welcome back MLQ3.

    I think in the end, the whole problem really started with one simple problem, Trillanes AGAIN took over another building. He has the right intentions (saying GMA is corrupt which by the way is an exercise of free speech) and the wrong means (taking over a building forcibly from the onwer’s and/or the owner’s caretakers). It was really the seond part that bothered me.

    He’s asking a lawbreaker to step down and yet he broke the law in the process of asking the lawbreaker to step down? Bakit ko siya paniniwalaan then?

  29. sparks

    If it were any other figure other than Trillanes who called for people to come, I think the outcome would have been different.

    The fact that it was a man in uniform whose political ambitions are there for all to see, must’ve turned a lot of people off.

    We’ve done the quasi-military junta thing before.

    I think Filipinos want something new. For the moment, the status quo is maintained. But that doesn’t mean the we don’t want change.

  30. coward

    He’s asking a lawbreaker to step down and yet he broke the law in the process of asking the lawbreaker to step down? Bakit ko siya paniniwalaan then?

    Silent Waters, you don’t have to believe in Trillanes or his antic of resolving his grievances, but if you were in his shoes, granted started when he staged that Oakwood Mutiny and presented his group original grievances, were those been attended too? And were their trial been fair and reasonable? And even his own petition to seat as a Senator been speedily process so he can air his grievances in proper venue in which the people voted him to? Desperate people do desperate things. Some even take their own lives out of desperation and there are people who blew up themselves along with scores of innocents along out of desperation. You don’t have to agree with them, but they do happen, and it will continue to happen, mark my words…

  31. Jon Mariano

    If there’s no “deeper” reason for the rebellion in Manila Pen, I say that Trillanes is muy loco, sloppy, and careless. But who can question his bravery in instigating such a childish caper? Not many can express their dissent; most just keep quiet. e.g. pag may problema sa trabaho, most would just keep quiet dahil takot mawalang ng trabaho!

  32. micketymoc

    I just had a thought – it would have probably ended differently if Trillanes had walked to the Senate building instead and attempted to exercise his rights as a Senator. If he had even attempted this, I bet the hooting wouldn’t have been as loud.

    (Although, due to the distance from Makati RTC to the GSIS bldg., baka sira ang byuti niya pagdating doon!)

  33. Silent Waters


    That would have been really a better idea. For some reason, they like Makati a lot better. Siguro mas masarap ang food sa hotel if they are planning to stay for a few days…haha

  34. micketymoc

    Hindi siguro sanay si Trillanes na magrebolusyon kung walang room service. Hoot hoot! 😀

  35. sparks

    I think the reason they pick these “high profile” places to hole up in is completely for strategic reasons. The fact that its in the heart of the country’s financial district makes it that much more difficult for the government to just blow them up. I think this may have been the reason why that APC was ordered to destroy the hotel’s doorway and shower the damn lobby with bullets. It may have been a signal to everyone who was watching that the fancy surroundings won’t deter government forces from doing their job.

    That, and, well – the Pinoy blogosphere is now rife with haka-haka about certain opposition personalities also hovering nearby at the time….

  36. micketymoc

    Honga pala, sparks, while I have your attention – super thanks talaga for selling me the Steven Pinker book. I liked it so much, nanganak na sya – I already have his best 3 books (of which the Blank Slate is one of them).

  37. Old Spice

    Welcome back Manolo.
    No matter how you look at it, the plot was doomed to fail. Even Rex Robles asks: Is Trillanes really an enemy of Gloria? Look at the sundalo website and you’d find the name of Ramon Montano. The poor fellow was at the Pen anxious about a wedding reception for a relation.

  38. The Equalizer

    Section 97 of the Rules of the Senate state: “Upon the recommendation of the Committee on Ethics and Privileges, the Senate may punish any Member for disorderly behavior and, with the concurrence of two-thirds (2/3) of the entire membership, suspend or expel a Member. A penalty of suspension shall not exceed sixty (60) calendar days.”

    How I Expect Senators to vote on the Proposed Expulsion of Senator Trillanes from the Senate:


    1) Angara,Ed

    2) Arroyo,Joker

    3) Defensor-Santiago ,Miriam

    4) Enrile,Juan Ponce

    5) Gordon ,Dick

    6) Honasan,Gringgo

    7) Lapid,Lito

    8) Revilla,Bong

    9) Zubiri,Mike


    1) Aquino,Noynoy

    2) Biazon,Rodolfo

    3) Escudero,Chiz

    4) Lacson,Ping

    5) Madrigal,Jamby

    6) Pangilinan,Kiko

    7) Pimentel,Aquilino

    8) Roxas,Mar

    It depends:

    1) Manny Villar (depends where the political wind blows)

    2) Estrada,Jinggoy( depends on Erap,who depends on GMA)

    3) Cayetano,Allan Peter (depends on Manny V.)

    4) Cayetano,Pia(depends on Allan Peter)

    5) Legarda,Loren (depends on Ed)

    Note:There are 23 Senators in the 14th Congress.Senator Trillanes obviously cannot vote.

    “Hints” from Manny Villar:

    The Senate president said some senators were sore at Trillanes for what he did. Di lahat na senador gusto tumulong. May nagalit sa ginawa niya (Not all senators want to help him. Some are still sore at him for what he did).”

    “Mahirap ang kalagayan niya. Kami ay handa umalalay, pero wala kaming choice dito, di namin pwede saklawan (He is in a tight fix. But as much as we want to help him, we cannot claim custody of him at this time),” he said.

  39. The Ca t

    I agree with Mickey. The hooting was before, when people were being invited to join by text to go out and support Trillanes.

    EDSA 2 crowd was also converged by the Text brigade.

    So if the people were really for Trillanes, not even the rain can stop them.

    Remember Ninoy’s burial? The rain was pouring hard and yet majority of the people stayed.

    I still believe that whoever is mastermind of the Oakwood mutiny is still the mastermind of the Manila Pen failed coup.

    New leadership?

    Why were Erap and Binay together?

  40. cvj

    I think we should rename this the ‘hooters’ thread.

    For all Trillanes’ fuming, the only honorable thing to do is die there at Manila Pen. Why even bother one more time when you only end up back in jail. We were humiliated as a nation because he surrendered. – BrianB

    True! He was no Ninoy! – Equalizer

    Of what use is another Ninoy? I agree with Coward. It’s time for the heroes to stop dying ahead of the villains.

  41. The Ca t

    It is worth mentioning also those people who lost their balls when teargassed and arrested.

    Bishop Labayen said that he did not know of the plan of Trillanes et al. One bishop on the other hand commented that days before they were already being invited by this group for the plan. Lying is a sin.

    I used to admire Robert Reyes but when he was featured in a magazine with all his exotic pets that eat better than homeless people, I dropped him from my list.

    Then his mother came to ask for his release because he was only in Makati to say mass. Gawd. Isn’t he in always in the scene where protests/demonstrations were being held. Coincidence. My foot.

    Then the wife of Guingona came to ask for his husband’s release for humanitarian reason. He’s sick. He knows he’s sick why come to the place. Old habits die. They always wanted to be in the limelight. In the absence of cameras and lights, they are the most coward people using so many alibis just to avoid incarceration.

    Ninoy did not do all these things. He remained in prison even when he was the last one released.

    So don’t judge the Filipino people why they won’t brave the rain. They know who are real heroes and who are not.

    People power is dead and so are heroes. These people pretending to be heroes are just working for the few people who like to take control of the Philippines. Nothing more. This is not even about GMA. This is about getting control before a new President is elected in 2010. There is an urgency to do this. And GMA haters just can’t get this because of their hate to Gloria. This is not even hate for Gloria. This is hate for her guts. And everytime any action against GMA failed, that hate doubles.

  42. manuelbuencamino

    Funny that Gloria tried to outdo Vivian Yuchengco. I guess the rivalry between the two women runs deep.

  43. benign0

    I don’t know what all the fuss is about.

    From my simplistic perspective, Trillanes is just another misguided moron, and like most misguided morons in the Philippines — a popular one; the kind that wins elections.

    In most societies, people who do such things get put in front of a firing squad.

    But this is the Philippines — land of suckers where ex dictators’ families, plundering ex presidents, and statutory rapists hobnob in high society.

    People should just leave this to the criminal justice system and get on with it. Then again, there isn’t really much in the way of worthwhile activities in the Philippines to distract from moronic tabloid fodder. 😀

  44. elac


    Are you implying something? Like the Bee Gees “How Deep is your love?”

  45. sparks

    For a supposedly “apathetic” Filipino middle class, there’s certainly a lot of colourful reactions in the Pinoy (middle class) blogosphere. *Chin stroke*


    Times like these, you do wonder whether we can overcome our animal instincts. We are, at bottom, chimps. But I think what separates us from the rest of the earth’s creatures is the reflexive knowledge that we do have these tendencies and that we have the capacity to channel, if not resist them entirely.

    So here’s to humanity – far from perfectible. And here’s to the journey towards approximating perfection – always bumpy but worth the ride. Woohoo!!!!

  46. The Equalizer

    “It’s time for the heroes to stop dying ahead of the villains.CVJ”


  47. cvj

    For a supposedly “apathetic” Filipino middle class, there’s certainly a lot of colourful reactions in the Pinoy (middle class) blogosphere. *Chin stroke* – Sparks

    The Pinoy (middle class) blogosphere never lacked snark especially when they feel alluded to.

  48. Madonna

    I perfectly agree with Equalizer that Trillanes is no Ninoy definitely! We live in crazy times and a crazy situation where the only ones who are “brave” are those with delusions of grandeur like Trillanes. God have mercy on our nation really for crying out loud!

    re: hooting, i have to say that even before the trillanes-led caper ended at around 6 that night, i felt that it was bound to end like Oakwood – and I made this judgment based on what he did and said in Oakwood — and a lot of people i knew were saying the same thing befor the fiasco ended. trillanes among the officers who were at oakwood struck me as someone who wanted to be a politician from the outset. i did not get the same impression from the other leaders such as gambala or maestrocampo. i never liked trillanes personally but my wish for him when he won in the last senatorial elections was that he be allowed to serve his madate.

    he’s no longer a soldier officially –and he should decide which he wants to be — a soldier or a politician. he can’t make up his mind. that line he said “like soldiers, we’re going to face this” was really the height of hubris — he kept on harping that he’s ready to fight and then drops his tail. what does he really want? it struck me judging from his statements made last thursday that the caper he led was more about himself, rather than about the country. That cannot be said about general lim who said “dissent without action is consent” – I have more respect for him than trillanes. by golly, lim made more sense than trillanes!

    I think Trillanes should be allowed to serve in the Senate even after his foolishness, but if this happens i think gma will take the opportunity to neutralize him in exchange for letting him serve.

    And I beg to disagree, it was not about success or losing that people were hooting, it was because Trillanes displayed character that could not be respected. Even if a person loses, he still retains the respect of the public – like Roco, when he lost not once but twice to GMA, people still respected him in general. That cannot be said of Senator Trillanes.

  49. baycas

    more entertainment with this forthcoming book…

    “Chronicles at The Pen: The Bottle, the Wig, and the Banana Peel”

    by Geary Lewis

  50. baycas

    the caper could actually be a happenstance



    choice of The Pen is really not coaccidental

    it’s closer to home…as in…PENitentiary…

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