Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Military still restive, says Biazon


Military still restive, says Biazon
First posted 03:13am (Mla time) Feb 28, 2006
By TJ Burgonio, Christine O. AvendaƱo

WHILE IT ended peacefully, the six-hour standoff at Marine headquarters in Fort Bonifacio on Sunday did not quash the restiveness in the military, Senator Rodolfo Biazon said yesterday.

“I don’t know if the sentiments have been placated. A lot will depend on how those who were identified as raising the possibility of withdrawal of support will be treated,” Biazon said at a briefing.

The standoff stemmed from the protest staged by a group of Marines against the relief of their commandant, Major General Renato Miranda.

Biazon said nobody knew the extent of the restiveness. “Not even the chief of staff knows that. Not even the President knows that … the extent and the depth of this kind. It’s boiling inside.”

Biazon, a Marine who once served as AFP chief of staff, was among the first to rush to the Marine headquarters on Sunday to pacify the restive troops and prevent a confrontation with their comrades.

A day after the standoff, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appeared on national television, thanking authorities for their handling of the problem and warning destabilizers that she would not allow her economic reforms to go to waste.

Despite heavy eye bags, Ms Arroyo was in a good mood and did not dwell much on the recent crisis at a round-table discussion with some Cabinet officials. She said there was no time for any celebration.

Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz said the government was “over the hump.” But he acknowledged that the authorities remained vigilant.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the Palace was thankful the standoff was “peacefully resolved” and that the President was commending the Marines “for acting with a sense of professionalism and for refusing to be used for partisan politics.”

The military yesterday received a reminder from the US government to remain “professional and nonpolitical.”

“The United States reiterates its call that the government of the Philippines, the Armed Forces and the Filipino people respect fully the rule of law, protect civil liberties and human rights, and reject violence,” the US Embassy said in a statement.

“We hope and expect that the Filipino people will seek peaceful solutions to the current situation through constitutional procedures.”

“The United States strongly believes in the principle and practice of civilian control of a professional and non-political military,” it added.

It was the second statement from the US Embassy in line with its “monitoring” of the political situation since Ms Arroyo placed the country under a state of emergency.

It also marked the first time since the declaration that the embassy directed a message to a more specific entity in the Philippine government -- the Armed Forces.

As with the first statement issued on Friday, the embassy’s pronouncement yesterday contained no direct expression of support for Ms Arroyo.

US State department official

Also yesterday, the embassy announced the scheduled arrival in Manila of US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the department’s most senior official on East Asian and Pacific affairs.

The embassy statement may not ease the seething restiveness in the military.

Biazon, chair of the Senate committee on national defense, recalled that at the end of the standoff, the declaration of the new Marine commandant, Brigadier General Nelson Allaga, that the Marines would follow the chain of command was met with reservations by the junior officers.

“There was an added concern because some of the junior officers said that the statement issued by General Allaga was not a collective sentiment,” Biazon said.

Another officer, Lieutenant Colonel Aquiles Segunlian, raised the issue of clean elections after the standoff, according to the senator.

Biazon said the reasons ran deeper than the unceremonious relief of Miranda.

“You can’t divorce it from events outside that have been transpiring since (Press) Secretary (Ignacio) Bunye waved those two tapes,” he said, referring to the “Hello Garci” tapes that spawned allegations Ms Arroyo stole the 2004 presidential election.

Had it gotten the support of a critical mass of soldiers and people, the protest that grew more tense as soldiers drove four tanks out of their barracks and parked them in front of the Marine headquarters could have turned into something like a “withdrawal of support,” Biazon said.

“I think the soldiers were waiting for the buildup of the crowd. I mean those who are inclined to withdraw support. (Sunday’s) event was along that line, a move with the intention of withdrawal of support,” he said.

Personalities from disparate political groups and members of civil society joined the crowd gathered at the gates of the Marine headquarters to show support for the disgruntled Marines, who feared the military brass would send troops to neutralize them.
Hordes of civilians tried to join the crowd, but were kept at bay by antiriot members of the National Capital Region Police Office and the Southern Police District who set up barricades on Lawton Avenue fronting the Marine headquarters.

Former President Corazon Aquino herself was stopped at Gate 3 of Fort Bonifacio on Pasong Tamo Extension, some 300 meters from Gates 7 and 8 of the Marine headquarters, on orders of NCRPO chief Director Vidal Querol.

Biazon turned emotional when asked if Colonel Ariel Querubin, who led the protest and exhorted the people on TV to proceed to the camp to protect the Marines, could face serious sanctions.

If authorities file charges against Querubin or Brigadier General Danilo Lim, who had reportedly informed the military brass he would join street protests and withdraw support from the administration on Friday before he was restricted to quarters, they should also file charges against the President and Angelo Reyes, the senator said.

“Remember the withdrawal of support is exactly what was done in January 2001. If they file charges against General Lim, I think they should file charges against the President and General Reyes. They did what General Lim was accused of having done,” he said.

Then AFP Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes withdrew support from President Joseph Estrada and backed the hordes that had been massing for days on the streets demanding Estrada’s ouster. This prompted Estrada to step down.

Then Vice President Macapagal-Arroyo was later sworn in as President. With a report from Volt Contreras

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