Three years ago on July 27, about 300 young soldiers from the Army and the Navy – among them 70 junior officers including two honor graduates of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 1995 – stormed Oakwood Premier, a luxury hotel in Makati City, armed with high-powered guns and explosives. Three years after the uprising – what ever happened to the soldiers who made Oakwood synonymous with the word “mutiny”?
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
It appeared to be business as usual for the Oakwood Hotel in Makati City, as well as the establishments surrounding it, when I passed by this commercial district a few days ago.
People, mostly foreigners, were continuously going in and out of the building. At the lobby were a number of smartly dressed young men and women who probably just got out of their offices after completing the workday and were waiting for their friends for dinner or a night-out.
There was no sign at all that Oakwood was once the scene of an event that took the people by surprise, leading them to monitor with bated breath what transpired for almost a whole day.
Three years ago on July 27, about 300 young soldiers from the Philippine Army and the Philippine Navy – among them 70 junior officers including two honor graduates of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1995 – stormed Oakwood Premier Hotel armed with high-powered guns and explosives. The “rebel” soldiers, who came to be known as the Magdalo group, had with them food and medical supplies enough to last them for weeks – showing that they were prepared for a long fight.
All throughout the uprising, the Magdalo soldiers appeared to be led by five young officers: Navy Lt. Senior Grade Antonio Trillanes IV, magna cum laude of PMA Class 1995; Army Capt. Gerardo Gambala, valedictorian of PMA Class 1995; Army Capt. Milo Maestrecampo, Navy Lt. Senior Grade James Layug, and Marine Capt. Gary Alejano. Also among the officers involved in the uprising were Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon, Army 1Lt. Lawrence San Juan, and Army 1Lt. Patricio Bumindang. Trillanes appeared to be the group’s spokesperson.
They demanded the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, then Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes and the rest of her Cabinet, and top officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on three grounds.
First, they asserted that the government has been selling arms to anti-government forces including the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and that higher officials of the military were enriching themselves by pocketing AFP funds while their men are dying in the fields. Second, they accused the government of responsibility, through Reyes and then military intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus, of staging bombings in Mindanao to create a pretext for branding the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) a “terrorist” group and justify its begging for additional military aid from the U.S.
And third, they accused Arroyo of planning to declare martial law by August that same year in order to extend her stay in office beyond 2004.
The uprising which started at around 3 a.m. would be over by 10 p.m. that same day. Pro-government troops and officials were able to talk them into standing down. Trillanes, Gambala, Maestrecampo, Layug, and Alejano were detained at the headquarters of the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP). The other soldiers including Faeldon, San Juan, and Bumindang went back to barracks and were restricted to quarters.
Where have they gone?
Lawyer Roel Pulido, who represented 290 of the 300 Magdalo soldiers – including Gambala and Maestrecampo – said that 198 of them have been released through plea bargaining. He still has some 60 clients, but he cannot give an exact count, he says, “as the numbers change daily.”
When Trillanes, Gambala, Maestrecampo, Layug, Alejano, and Faeldon appeared before the President in September 2004 to apologize for the uprising, many thought they had all abandoned what they stood for at Oakwood. It turns out this was not the case.
Trillanes was taking up graduate studies in public administration at the University of the Philippines (UP) when the uprising broke out. Before the uprising, he submitted to his professors two research papers tackling corruption in the Philippine Navy and in its procurement system. He earned his Master of Public Administration (MPA) last March, completing his thesis and other course requirements from his ISAFP cell.