Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 3,  Number 27              August 10 - 16, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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On Coups and the “Magdalo Group”-- Reliving History


When a group of 70 young Filipino army officers and soldiers wore red bandanas and unfurled the red flag with the sun rays and the Filipino letter “K” - also known as the Magdalo flag of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s faction in Cavite during the Philippine revolution of 1896 when they took over the commercial district of Makati last July 27 - they used the symbols of the past to echo the stirrings of the present. Little did they know that they were resurrecting history with its bitter fruits.


By Arturo P. Garcia

Contributed to Bulatlat.com


Magdalo vs Magdiwang in history


More than a hundred years ago, the Magdalo faction in Cavite carried out the first coup d’etat in Philippine history when they arrested Andres Bonifacio and his brother and, following a mock-trial, had them executed on Mt.Buntis, Maragondon, Cavite May 10, 1897. One of the executioners went by the name of a Macapagal.


Before the Magdalo coup, the Tejeros Convention was held and in that meeting, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo who went by the nom de guerre Magdalo (after his town’s patron saint-St Magdalene) was elected president of the new assembly. Bonifacio’s followers were called the Magdiwang (Filipino word for celebrate) headed by Gen. Mariano Alvarez lost the elections. 

Magdalo Group armband with the Katipunan-vintage insignia


The event is also commemorated today as the birth of the Philippine Army and the Magdalo insignia and flag is prominently displayed in its logo and that of the AFP itself. Thus, the rebellious soldiers Magdalo Group can really identify with this group.


Aguinaldo rationalized that he has to get rid of Bonifacio, who founded the Katipunan, because he is an obstacle to the revolution. He was wrong. After the executions, the revolution against Spain teetered on defeat. Aguinaldo accepted the truce in Biak-na-Bato and opted for an exile in Hongkong following his surrender in December 1897.


It was no coincidence that a hundred years later, the AFP Magdalo group of rebellious young officers, went into a compromise without firing a shot – as they had warned they would a la Rambo - and went back to the barracks. In all, the mutiny took only 20 hours.


Coups and mutinies


So far, there are 14 recorded coups in Philippine history - from the last days of President Marcos up to the time of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. These were the coup plot against Marcos just before the first People Power (or Edsa I); nine coups and mutinies staged against the Aquino administration from 1986-1989; the coup plot of May 1, 2001; the recent mutiny in Makati; and the two coups at Edsa I and Edsa Dos.


Most of the early coups and mutinies were mounted by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), the Young Officers Union (YOU) and the pro-Marcos military known as the Soldiers of the Filipino People (SFP). The most violent and protrated coup that lasted for days were the August 1987 failed attack on the presidential palace and the December 1989 coup that almost succeeded if not for the intervention of the U.S. military that sent attack aircraft to support the beleaguered AFP at Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.


In 1991, the AFP and the RAM-SFP concluded peace negotiations ending all armed rebellions against the Aquino administration. Col. Gregorio”Gringo” Honasan and some of his cohorts signed a peace agreement with the Ramos government and availed of an amnesty program the following year. Apparently, part of the deal was to make Honasan a senator in 1994.


Some analysts believe however that there were only two successful “coups” in the Philippines – when the group of Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and AFP vice chief of staff Gen. Fidel V. Ramos switched to the side of a people’s uprising in February 1986 (Edsa I) and, in January 2001, Defense Secretary Orly Mercado and AFP chief of staff Gen. Angelo Reyes did the same thing. Enrile and Ramos led an unsuccessful military coup for a power grab of their own against dictator Ferdinand Marcos forcing them to seek shelter in the people’s revolt that toppled the dictatorship. The January 2001 People Power II (Edsa Dos) ousted President Joseph Estrada forcing his own AFP chief of staff, General Reyes, to turn against the government in order to, he would say later, prevent the “NPA from taking over” the government.


Under the Aquino presidency which took nine of the coup blows, Ramos gave a few of the soldiers who took part in coups symbolic push-ups. (Some coup participants were less fortunate. During the “Black Sunday” coup in Fort Bonifacio in 1987, Army chief Gen. Rodolfo Canieso quelled the coup by ordering cannons to be fired at the mutineers.)


In the main, instead of being punished under the law based on the recommendation of the probe body – the Davide Commission - the coup plotters were rewarded with high government positions or promotions to higher posts in the military. After Edsa I, Ramos himself was promoted to AFP chief and, later, as defense secretary. The posts led him to the presidency in 1992. After the 2001 revolt, Reyes retained his post and took over as defense secretary vice Mercado who went back in the Estrada fold by running for the Senate under the ex-president’s party.


Why the Magdalo putsch failed


In retrospect, former president Fidel Ramos said the Magdalo putsch failed for lack of any good plan and that the takeover of the Oakwood Apartment Building was spontaneous.


Apparently, two days before the putsch the Magdalo group had a meeting with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and it looked like the would-be putschists’ grievances about corruption were settled. Two days later, they were ordered arrested. The president’s arrest orders prompted them to set the putsch in motion. At least 300 soldiers participated in the takeover of Oakwood at around 1 a.m. July 27.


But the military putsch did not enjoy the support of the people and the majority of the armed forces.


The so-called “collective leadership” of the putschists had no clear agenda – a larger vision and a plan to do. At first they were calling for the overthrow of Macapagal-Arroyo and her cabinet including General Reyes. Later they downgraded their demands to just the removal of Generals Reyes, Ebdane of the police and Victor Corpus of the AFP intelligence service.  


They apparently espoused the National Recovery Plan (NRP) – an election platform of Honasan - making them suspect of being pawns in the May 2004 presidential elections. NRP calls for the abolition of the Philippine National Police and its reintegration into the military. The national police was integrated into the military during the dictatorship but was devolved into a national police force independent from the military four year after Marcos’s overthrow.


Determined with their demands at the beginning of their adventure, the putschists agreed later to negotiate and then to a compromise. But unlike the 1989 coup when the Scout Rangers marched back to Fort Bonifacio in a swagger, the Magdalo group were transported back to their barracks without any fanfare.


The compromising stance of the new Magdalo group shows a similarity in the Magdalo faction of 1897 who entered into a capitulationist compromise with the Spanish colonialists. As the Magdiwang faction led by Emilio Jacinto and the Alvarezes of the Katipunan went on fighting the Spaniards, Aguinaldo was whisked back to the Philippines by the Americans in May 1898 with a pledge that the latter would support the revolution against Spain. Aguinaldo showed his naivete when the Americans betrayed him, entered into a deal with the Spaniards and occupied the Philippines as its colony. The Magdiwangs then fought side by side with the Magdalos to defend the Philippine revolution against the new colonialists.


The young rebellious officers made a poor choice in using Magdalo as their fighting symbol. But it would have been worse had used instead the Magdiwang symbol and Bonifacio’s colors.


History when repeated becomes a farce - a comedy of errors indeed! Bulatlat.com

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