Behind The Mutiny In Manilla


IN LATE July, more than 300 junior officers and soldiers seized a hotel in Manila’s financial district, rigged it with explosives and demanded the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s government.

The mutiny was over within 19 hours, but the political fallout from the takeover continues to spread–a symptom of the crisis facing the Arroyo government. Last week, officials ordered the arrest of Sen. Gregorio Honasan, a longtime political rival of Arroyo’s, as an instigator of the failed mutiny–the highest-ranking official to face such charges.

The uprising may have been short-lived, but its effects continue to linger because the demands of the mutineers–if not the mutineers themselves–had such a broad public appeal.

In addition to calling for the resignation of Angelo Reyes–the chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)–the mutineers attacked the rampant corruption in the military. The bribes paid to military officials by defense contractors are so large that kickbacks can increase the cost of contracts by as much as 200 percent–costs that are passed on to taxpayers.

But corruption extends far beyond the military. A recent exposé by the Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism, for example, found that midlevel officials at the Bureau of Internal Revenue–whose official salary is about $5,000 to $6,000 a year–were living like kings, in posh houses surrounded by luxury cars.

“We demand the resignation of the entire regime which has only looked after the rich and enriched themselves,” said Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes, a leader of the mutiny who is now facing court martial and charges of “rebellion,” along with the rest of the mutineers. Already construction on a million-peso mansion reportedly owned by Reyes has been halted because of the mutiny.

Given the desperate poverty facing most people in the Philippines, Trillanes’ accusations amount to a stinging indictment of the Arroyo regime. Official unemployment stands at 10 percent, and the actual rate is certainly much higher. More than a quarter of poor families doesn’t have access to safe drinking water or sanitary toilets, and nearly half have no electricity.

This situation has worsened because of the Arroyo government’s devotion to International Monetary Fund and World Bank policies that require privatization and cuts in government spending on basic services. When Manila’s water services were privatized in 1997, bills for water in residential areas shot up 200 percent–despite promises that the private sector would provide better service more cheaply.

But the most explosive accusation made by the mutineers is that top military brass were behind two terror bombings in Davao in the southern Mindinao region earlier this year that took the lives of 38 civilians and wounded many more. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)–which the military blamed for the bombings–has been waging a decades-long independence struggle in that region.

Left-wing observers have speculated for some time that military officials ordered the bombings to create the pretext for a crackdown and to convince the U.S. to provide more military aid to help the AFP wage its own “war on terror.” Now, there are growing demands for an independent investigation of Reyes, which could unearth even more examples of corruption and ties to anti-government forces.

Even before the bombings, the AFP had stepped up its offensive against the MILF–and trampled on the human rights of the people of Mindinao. “Between January 22 and July 25 this year, the number of cases of human-rights violations was already at 482–a 477 percent increase compared to the number of cases for the whole of 2002, which was 101,” according to Karapatan, a Mindinao human rights group.

Arroyo’s popularity has plunged because of her unwavering support for the U.S. war on Iraq and her eagerness to invite thousands of U.S. troops into the country for “training” purposes. In a country with firsthand experience of U.S. colonialism and a long tradition of struggle against imperialism, Arroyo’s support fell from 44 percent to 34 percent in the five months leading up to Operation Shock and Awe.

Given that there have been more than a dozen military coup attempts in less than 20 years, Arroyo has been careful to take up the grievances of officers–while taking advantage of the threat to carry out a broad campaign against her rivals, both in the military and outside it.

Right-wing forces are also manipulating the mutineers’ legitimate grievances. Hanasan and his allies, which reportedly include forces loyal to former President Estrada and the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, reportedly bankrolled the mutiny. Sojme mutineers are also identified with such CIA-backed organizations as the Reform the Armed Forces Movement and the Young Officers Union.

For the workers and poor of the Philippines, the solution will come through the country’s tradition of “People Power.” Mass popular protests drove out the U.S.-backed dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, corrupt President Joseph Estrada in 2001 and nearly toppled Arroyo the same year. This tradition of struggle, if firmly grounded from below, could both challenge U.S. imperialism–and organize a movement to improve the living conditions of poor and working people.

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