Philippines Charges 45 in Alleged February Coup Plot

Authorities in the Philippines have filed rebellion charges against 45 people, including two former military generals, in connection with an alleged plot in February to take power and drive President Gloria Arroyo from office.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales says many military and police personnel are charged, including General Danilo Lim, the former commander of the army’s elite scout rangers, and former Marine General Renato Miranda. The new cases are in addition to charges the accused face under military law.

A former ambassador is named, along with several communist guerrilla leaders and a former state university president. So is Gregorio Honasan, a former army colonel and senator whose name pops up anytime a coup plot in the Philippines is mentioned. Honasan is in hiding.

Secretary Gonzales says the authorities put extra care into this investigation, to avoid accusations that any of the indictments were politically motivated.

“It took us several months in order to come up with this, to be certain that these people will not cry harassment,” he said. “We did everything to build a case and see to it that these cases can stand up in court.”

During previous coup plots, military figures were dealt with in a lenient manner, a reflection of the easy-going Filipino society. In one instance, some accused officers were ordered to do push-ups. But Gonzalez says the situation advanced too far this time, and stricter measures are necessary.

“Now this was extensive because formerly it was just a slap on the wrist. Before we just ordered the military to ‘push up’ and then they go back to the barracks,” said Gonzales. “But I think it is about time to be more strict. They will learn their lesson.”

The crime of rebellion carries a life sentence in the Philippines. Secretary Gonzales says more charges are expected in coming weeks as authorities look into the financiers of the alleged plot. He said a number of prominent figures are under investigation including two senators and a Roman Catholic bishop. He would not give any names because the probe is pending.

President Arroyo has been accused of corruption and abuse of power, and has been the target of a concerted effort to drive her from office. She has survived an attempt by the congress to impeach her, and there have been frequent demonstrations calling on her to resign.

Last February, in the midst of this campaign, she declared a brief state of emergency to halt what she said was a conspiracy by segments of the military, communist guerrillas and the political opposition to overthrow her government. The army has already recommended that dozens of officers face court martial in the affair.

Coup plots and rumors are a frequent feature of political life in the Philippines. There have been more than 20 attempts or plots in the last two decades, in addition to the popular revolts that ousted Presidents Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001. Both of those revolts were backed by the military and the Catholic Church.

By Douglas Bakshian

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