What are some common scams in Makati

Chronicle of an announced coup

by Beate Martin, FES Manila, August 2003

The coup attempt did not come as a complete surprise, as coup rumors had been circulating for weeks. And further coup attempts are expected before the elections in May 2004.

President Arroyo had ordered the arrest of a group of deserted officers and soldiers just hours before the first attempted coup in 14 years. Members of this group had taken part in the coup attempt. A few days earlier there were press releases in which this group described itself as the soldiers of the nation, condemned the ubiquitous corruption and threatened to bring about change by force if necessary.

The Philippines saw a whole series of coup attempts in the 1980s. The military has always been the most important power factor. Sometimes the threat of another coup attempt was enough to successfully influence politics. Even today, no president can stay in power without the approval of the military. However, the military is split into diverse, competing groups and is in desperate need of reform.

July 27, 2003 The 'Makati Uprising'

Around 300 young soldiers, including 70 officers, occupied the Oakwood building complex (hotel, apartments, offices, shopping) in Makati in the center of Metro Manila on the night of Sunday, July 27th. They were well-trained and intelligent graduates from the Philippine Military Academy born in 1995. In order to emphasize their demands, they blocked the access to the building complex with explosives. Foreigners, including the Australian ambassador, were allowed to leave the building unscathed in the middle of the night. Oakwood was the target of a coup in 1989 against Corazon Aquino.

Not a single shot was fired during the 19-hour state of emergency. The siege was resolved peacefully after several hours of negotiations. Heavily armed troops loyal to the government had surrounded the entire area. The rebels finally gave up after two ultimatums had expired and the hoped-for support from the civilian population had not materialized. They dismantled the explosives packages and had them taken to a barracks.

The leaders of the coup attempt are the naval officer Lt. Senior Grade Antonio F. Trillanes IV, Army Capt. Milo D. Maestrocampo, and Navy Lt. Senior Grade Gerardo O. Gambala. They also call themselves the Magdalo Group (alluding to a historical freedom fighter. Trillanes is a graduate of the National College of Public Administration and Governance at the University of the Philippines. During his studies, he did two papers on various cases of corruption in the Philippine military (Armed Forces of the Philippines / AFP).

The Magdalo Group held some impressive 'press conferences' during the Oakwood Siege. The young officers were very moved and committed. Right from the start they tried to make it clear that they neither wanted to use force nor to take power in the state. Above all, they wanted to make blatant abuses in the army and in the state public and to ensure that effective measures to improve the current situation would be taken as soon as possible. It remains unclear whether they were used politically in the process or whether they wanted to harness politicians for their own interests.

The requirements in detail:

  • Resignation of President Arroyo and Secretary of Defense Angelo Reyes
  • Resignation of the secret service chief General Corpus
  • Combating corruption in the military and in state institutions
  • Cessation of arms sales to Muslim and communist rebels (MILF, NPA, Abu Sayyaf) by some military and the staging of attacks (bomb attacks in Davao City in March and April 2003) with the aim of obtaining further military support from the USA
  • Better pay and equipment for the soldiers
It is true that the soldiers, especially in Mindanao, have to work under the most difficult conditions. They therefore stand up for their legitimate interests such as better pay and accommodation. A soldier only earns a good $ 100 a month. The government has repeatedly assured that it will address these problems and find a solution. In fact, nothing ever happened.

It has been complained that some military personnel are selling weapons and ammunition to the rebel groups MILF, NPA, Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao. These allegations are not new. Most recently, Marcia Burnham, American who was Abu Sayyaf hostage, made the same allegations public and wrote them down in her book. Arroyo also had these allegations investigated by a commission of inquiry, which, however, has so far not presented any tangible results. Trillanes has listed some concrete examples in his studies. Akbayan's party list representative Etta Rosales said in her speech on July 29th. referred to in Parliament. Since she herself is the daughter of a naval officer, she knows the long-known abuses in the AFP very well.

In addition, cases of serious corruption are repeatedly reported in the AFP, which, however, are usually not cleared up and for which no one has to answer.

On the following Sunday, August 3rd, rumors and text messages piled up on cell phones that there would be a second attempted coup. It was said that this time the uprising would take place at the gates of the capital. In fact, at no point has there been a large accumulation of groups. Many suspect that these rumors served more to fuel the political instability.

Until August 11, there was a moderate state of emergency. Businessmen and politicians have repeatedly called for an immediate end to the state of emergency because it is hindering economic activity. The situation is now so far calm. Security measures have been stepped up across the city and additional, well-armed troops have been transferred to the military camp in the capital, Camp Aguinaldo.

So far it has been possible to find a peaceful solution to the soldiers' uprising on July 27th and to keep the situation largely under control. The actual motives for the coup attempts are not yet clear, and the actual ringleaders have not been identified either. Little by little, more details come to light that may shed light on the background to the uprising.

The campaign for the presidential elections in May 2004 has started

The presidential election campaign has long since begun and all kinds of conspiracy theories are simmering in the rumor mill. A wide variety of explanations are currently being mentioned.

  • Possibly the coup was staged by politicians who only wanted to weaken the Arroyo government, but not completely overthrow it.
  • Some suspect a blind idealism of the young officers who have allowed themselves to be abused by one or more opposition politicians.
  • Others speculate that Estrada and his followers are behind it all anyway.
  • It is also speculated that the Magdalo group planned together with Senator Honasan to set up a military junta with him at the helm.
Senator Gregorio 'Gringo' Honasan's ambitions to run for president in May 2004 are obvious. Just a few days earlier, on July 10th, he had publicly announced his presidential candidacy and presented his National Recovery Program (NRP). He is allegedly co-author of a paper discussing a plan to overthrow the Arroyo government and set up a 15-member military junta. The friend of the ex-president Estrada was formerly a general of the AFP and involved several times in the coup attempts at the end of the 1980s. As part of the general amnesty of 1995, he was acquitted. So far he has denied any involvement in the 'Makati uprising' on July 27th. However, there are links between the coup plotters and Honasan. On July 27th, NRP pamphlets were distributed. It is said that Honosan liked Trillanes' papers, which he wrote in college, so much that he asked him to work with him on the National Recovery Program.

The former Marcos confidante Danding Cojuangco, like Panfilo "Pin" Lacson, the former police chief of the Philippines, could have tried to improve his chances with a coup. The insurgent military may be supporting Pin Lacson as one of the strongest men who could restore law and order to the country. In the surveys, it has only reached around 12% so far. Lacson is accused of drug trafficking, kidnapping, and other criminal activities. Voters' memories seem short and the media preferentially inform about the things they are paid to do.

Former film star and President Joseph E. Estrada is also still under suspicion of being one of the masterminds behind the attempted coup on July 27th. He has an extensive family network, his wife and their son, but also one of his lovers Larny, who has three children from Estrada, are suspected of having supported the coup. Estrada is still quite popular and, unlike the elite economist Arroyo, is seen as a man of the people. His binge drinking, gambling addiction and numerous expensive lovers were overlooked because in case of doubt, this distinguishes him as a 'real man' in the macho country of the Philippines. He is currently still at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City. He had been taken to an army camp at short notice during the coup 'for his own safety'. A successful coup would have been beneficial for Estrada as the lawsuit against him for fraud and looting is nearing completion. If convicted, he faces the death penalty, at least formally. Former minister in the Estrada government, Ramon Cardenas, has since been arrested. Guns and armbands used by the insurgents were reportedly found in his home.

So far, President Arroyo has not yet publicly revoked her renunciation of the presidential candidacy, which was publicly announced at the end of December 2002. Allegedly, the July 27 uprising was supposed to take place after this announcement. But those involved in the military were already rudimentarily identified and had to strike out before they could be fully discovered and arrested. A few days before the coup, heightened alert was declared internally. One of the goals of the putschists was to create a climate of uncertainty and to show that Arroyo cannot control the situation and should therefore not be elected president. She herself appears to be the cause of the political unrest.

It remains to be seen to what extent the political destabilization of the Arroyo government and the ambitions of the president to run for president have harmed. Her reputation also suffers on charges that she took power in a 'illegitimate' manner. She was promoted in her capacity as Vice-President, but was not confirmed by elections. The military had given their predecessor Estrada his allegiance in January 2001 and supported Arroyo. For her part, she must now fear that at some point the military will no longer follow her either. However, by July 27, she had the full support of the military leadership.

In the past few months, her scores in the polls have not been bad. The demands from all sides increased that they should consider a presidential candidacy again. For the first time, tax revenues exceeded the targets set and the budget deficit remained below the planned debt. If it can now give the impression that the allegations against corruption are being seriously investigated, it could even emerge stronger from the crisis. In her annual address to the nation, which had long been planned for July 28, she had at least promised to do so.

The role of the military in the Philippines

The military only gained extreme importance in the 1970s and 1980s under the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos. During the time of martial law from 1972-86 Marcos made use of the military and gave the generals more power than, for example, the provincial governors. Today the Filipino military is not particularly well positioned in international comparison with a troop strength of 120,000 men and their equipment.

Since the late 1980s, however, a new generation of young officers has begun to question the previous structure and role of the military and to advocate reform. Some of the young officers and graduates of the military academy in recent years are highly educated and see themselves as politically minded citizens who reject blind obedience in the army. They condemn corruption and opportunism in all areas of the state and the military. It is the extremely weak political institutions that drive the young officers to intervene. Within the military, however, there is a division into various groups with different interests. The July 27 uprising was supported by a relatively small group. The greater part has waited to then safely assign themselves to the successful side.

The military are aware of their political power. Their failed coup attempt in February 1986 was the beginning of the military-backed civil society People Power movement that successfully ousted Marcos from office. In 1995, after a series of unsuccessful coup attempts during the Aquino regime (1986-92), President Ramos negotiated a general amnesty from which not only today's Senator Honasan benefited. In January 2001, the military withdrew their support for President Estrada, so that he could be replaced by then Vice-President Arroyo as part of the People Power II movement.

The AFP are still an extremely important force in the Philippines. No president can stay in power without their support. Marcos (1969-86) and Estrada (1998-2001) were catapulted from office with the support of the military in the course of EDSA I and II protests by civil society. But even in normal times, the military know how to enforce their interests and prevent unpleasant investigations into cases of corruption, for example. Apart from that, many former AFP members can now be found in politics and administration (see Glenda M. Gloria's publication 'We were Soldiers. Military Men in Politics and Bureaucracy', FES Manila 2003).

Enlightenment attempts and effects of the coup in the Philippines

After the “Makati Uprising”, several investigative commissions were set up at various levels. The hearings take place under the strictest security measures. To what extent they can really be useful in establishing the truth remains to be seen. More details will emerge. In the future, procurement by the military is to be strictly controlled and corruption cases are to be investigated in the AFP. The secret service chief General Victor Corpus has since resigned. This was one of the demands of the insurgent soldiers. Officially, however, it is said that his resignation had nothing to do with these demands. The judges could impose sentences of up to 40 years in prison on the coup plotters. Experience has shown that the penalty for those involved in earlier coup attempts was usually not very strict.

In the context of another attempted coup, it cannot be ruled out that unwanted political opponents such as Akbayan members will also be eliminated. You have already taken special security measures for this case.

The economic consequences of the political destabilization cannot yet be fully foreseen. But the tendency of international investors to invest in the Philippines and not in other Asian countries, which is already quite low, is likely to decrease even further.

However, the seat of the Philippines as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the years 2004-5 does not appear to be in jeopardy so far. The decision will be made in October 2003. To date there is no other candidate from Asia except the Philippines. The USA has also already given assurances that the cooperation programs it has promised to date will not be changed as a result of the attempted coup.

US President George W. Bush is still planning to travel to Thailand for the APEC summit this October. The arrest of the alleged terrorist and Jemaah Islamiah member Hambali (Riduan Isamuddin) in Thailand and the fact that other JI members may be active in Thailand have not deterred him from his trip to Southeast Asia. But whether he is visiting the Philippines as planned will pay is unclear.

After the attempted coup in Manila, security regulations were tightened considerably. The international airport has now been secured with additional police and army personnel. Publicly accessible places such as shopping centers, hotels, etc. are increasingly guarded. In the Philippines, President Arroyo is trying to pass anti-terrorism laws based on the US Patriot Act, enacted after September 11, 2001.The fact that the Indonesian al Qaeda terrorist Fathur Rohman Al Ghozi, who was wanted internationally for several deadly bomb attacks, was able to 'escape' from the maximum security prison in Manila with the help of members of the Filipino police increases the feeling of insecurity. Above all, this incident renders Arroyo's fight against international terrorism unbelievable.

However the coup and its consequences are dealt with. The bitter aftertaste remains that the actual underlying problems are not addressed and the real masterminds are not prosecuted. This allows history to repeat itself more often and the serious defects of Filipino democracy become apparent. Since the end of the Marcos regime in 1986, the military has repeatedly had to secure the constitutional order and has thus been given an increasingly important role in the democratizing country. At the same time, the military are violating precisely this constitutional order with the coup attempts. This dilemma will probably not be brought under control anytime soon.

Friedrich Ebert Foundation | net edition: Roland Feicht and Ulrike Ehnes | The Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Asia