Three years after Oakwood Mutiny
All the Soldiers Gone?
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”?
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.
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
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
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.”
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.
His 37-page master’s
thesis was titled “Preventing Military Interventions.” In it, he wrote
that most of Arroyo’s policies were “unresponsive
to the underlying causes of the Oakwood incident.” These, he further
wrote, will not be able to prevent future uprisings.
The mention of his name during his batch’s
graduation ceremonies last April was reported to have been received with
cheers and loud applause by his classmates.
“He is very consistent (with what they
went to Oakwood for),” Pulido said of Trillanes, who has as his legal
counsel former student leader Argee Guevarra.
Shortly before that, Faeldon – who had
been transferred to the ISAFP headquarters from the Marine headquarters –
shocked the nation by escaping from his cell. While outside, he called for
civil disobedience against the Arroyo administration. He even started a
website containing his various statements on pressing issues of the
day as well as pictures of himself visiting military and police
establishments – as if to taunt the government.
“He was getting so frustrated with the
government – not because of his detention – but because of the cheating,
lying, and the lack of moral authority to govern,” Pulido said. “And he
felt that inside prison, he couldn’t express his frustration, his
dissatisfaction and his beliefs. He felt that while inside, everything he
does will be taken against the group. So he decided to free himself and
take responsibility for his succeeding actions.”
Faeldon was arrested last January, after
45 days as a fugitive, while in a car with Capt. Candelaria Rivas, who is
assigned to the Judge Advocate General’s Office (JAGO).
Of the five original “leaders” of the
incident at Oakwood, aside from Trillanes, Layug and Alejano also remain
consistent with what they fought for, Pulido said.
However, Gambala and Maestrecampo were the
ones who have abandoned their cause. They have twice released statements
expressing support for the Arroyo administration.
Gambala even appeared in Sabwatan sa
Kataksilan (Conspiring in Treason), a documentary released by
Malacañang alleging an alliance between the Magdalo group and the
Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) intended to
further justify Proclamation No. 1017 which declared a state of emergency
throughout the country on February 24. This was a sequel to another
Malacañang documentary titled 1017: Paglaban sa Kataksilan (1017:
Fighting Treason) which was released in March.
When asked about the two, Pulido said he
has not got around to talking to them since they terminated his services
as their counsel. “I see them in court but we haven’t talked,” Pulido
Meanwhile, San Juan
and Bumindang escaped from Army headquarters last January. They were
reported to have led in plotting another uprising against the government.
While outside, San Juan issued several statements calling for Arroyo’s
San Juan was arrested
in Padre Garcia, Batangas last February; while Bumindang was caught
together with fellow Lieutenants Angelbert Gay, Aldrin Baldonado, Sonny
Sarmiento, and Kiram Sadava and lawyer Christopher Belmonte (nephew of
Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte, Jr.) in a house in Filinvest Homes,
Quezon City early July.
San Juan publicly
issued an apology and declared allegiance to the Arroyo administration a
few days after the Filinvest arrest. He has also declared that there is an
alliance between the Magdalo group and the CPP-NPA. He has even dragged
Pulido into the issue, pointing to the lawyer as a “propaganda officer” of
the Magdalo group.
“Which is more
believable, what San Juan said when he was outside and had all the freedom
to do and say what he pleased, or what he said after five months of being
held incommunicado and suffering all other kinds of pressure?”
Pulido replied when asked to comment on San Juan’s recent allegations.
“I’d say the first is definitely more believable.”
Juan and Gambala were both trained by U.S. Special Forces during the
Balikatan 02-1 exercises in Basilan in 2002, and are both described by
military sources as “deadly snipers.”
Both the Magdalo
group and the CPP-NPA have denied allegations of an alliance between them.
is alleged by his military custodians to be at odds with the others
arrested at Filinvest, and to have in fact facilitated their capture.
“They have not
Pulido said that many
among the Magdalo remain consistent with the cause they fought for at
Oakwood. He however admits that “there is a lot of pressure on them.” He
did not elaborate.
He said that three
years after the Oakwood uprising, the factors behind it remain. He agrees
with observations that the outstanding issues which fan military
restiveness remain unresolved.
“They always say
let’s make the military apolitical, let’s make the military apolitical,”
Pulido said. “But the military is but a part of society, and when the
military man goes home, he faces the same problems we all face: he lacks
money for his children’s food and tuition, the Meralco bill is so high,
water and fare rates are so high, everything is expensive. So of course it
pushes him to question himself: ‘Why am I risking my life every day I go
into the field for a government that does not even allow me to feed my
family?’ So they may have crushed whatever it is that they say they’ve
crushed, but certainly they have not crushed dissent.” Bulatlat
PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION ■
© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
Permission is granted to reprint or redistribute this article, provided
its author/s and Bulatlat are properly credited and notified.