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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Manuel L. Quezon III.

257 thoughts on “War freaks (updated)

  1. whoaaa! what’s with this macho ranting?

    ramrod, smart and gutsy? what your comrades did is simply STUPID. they allowed themselves to be manipulated that’s why i call them STUPID, STUPID , STUPID.

    and since you’re one of those MACHO disciples of trillanes just like cvj, you should have join them too. huwag puro salita like “we support you” ekek. “lead us sir and we’ll follow” – nagtatawag na ang leader nyo dapat nandoon kayo para maipakita nyo rin yang tapang at pagiging macho (pero walang utak) na ipanagyayabang mo.

    If you can run 150Kms a week, in combat boots, shirts, and shorts, carrying a rifle, in the cold Baguio weather, bench press more than your body weight, solve differential equation and thermodynamics problems, crawl 30 yards with live bullets zinging 6 inches over your heads .. ramrod

    you meant those corrupt PMA’ers? don’t you think it’s a small sacrifice to make?

  2. and since you’re one of those MACHO disciples of trillanes just like cvj, you should have join them too. – grd

    Thanks grd, first time someone called me that.

  3. Wow Ramrod! you sure had them hooters scared! It’s a good thing you went easy on them, because if you told em what you had to go through to get your Ranger tab, or share with them some of the things you’ve done during your numerous combat tours, they would have been terrified. Next time, show these pansies your 1000 yard stare.

  4. Anthony, no worries. BTW, on your question above:

    how then did the ‘elite’ abuse the Sumilao farmers and NBN/ZTE? what freedoms were taken away from ther sumilao farmers and NBN/ZTE? i was asking for specifics of your generalizations!

    …you can find the specifics (on the Sumilao Farmers) in Patricia Evangelista’s column (via Uniffors):


  5. cvj,

    your view equates ‘elite’ with whoever is in government. it seems what sealed the fate of the farmers are the actions of the executive and the judicial branch. The executive (DAR) prevented the land concerned from being ‘CARPable’ the judiciary (SC) confirmed it.

    i think our discussions on ‘elites’ were rooted on the notion that Washington SyCip is a part of the ‘elite.’ SyCip never held a government post, just an advisory position at best, never had the power to decide the fate of someone else.

    RA 8371 provides a mechanism for the ‘titling’ of ancestral lands/domains. Im not sure if this law is being implemented.

    Maybe RA 8371 could not be applied to the land of the Sumilaos because it has been titled in Quisumbings’s name then sold to San Miguel.

    For the land to be given back to the Sumilaos it must be bought back from San Miguel by the government. However, the problem with that is, the land as it is now is no longer “CARPable’. San Miguel can legally challenge any attempt to force it to sell the land.

    There are legal issues involved. DAR and gloria cannot just issue an order declaring the return of the land to the Sumilaos. Or at least stop the building of the hog farm. As owner San Miguel can do whatever it wants to the land.

    Maybe someone should assert their rights under RA 8371. This is another legal issue – whats the effect of the absence of proof ancestral land ownership under RA 8371 on the award of the land to Quisumbing?

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