Philippine leader amnesties coup-plot soldiers

AP News
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Posted: Oct 12, 2010 3:13 AM
Philippine leader amnesties coup-plot soldiers

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III granted amnesty Tuesday to officers and soldiers accused of plotting to overthrow his predecessor.

Only a handful of the original 300 troops who took up arms against then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in July 2003 remain in military custody on charges of mutiny and coup attempt.

The military restiveness highlighted the Philippines' political instability during Arroyo's tumultuous 9-year reign. Aquino took office after a landslide election win in May promising to end corruption, poverty and political divisions.

The most prominent of the military rebels is former navy lieutenant Antonio Trillanes IV, who was elected senator in 2007 after campaigning from detention.

He led the mutineers in seizing the upscale Oakwood Hotel and rigged the area with explosives to demand Arroyo's resignation for alleged corruption. They surrendered later that night without firing a shot.

Nine officers were convicted and sentenced in 2008 to prison terms of 12 to 40 years. They later apologized to Arroyo, who pardoned them.

Aquino said Tuesday that he submitted his amnesty proclamation for congressional approval. A majority of the House of Representatives and the Senate had already signed separate resolutions supporting amnesty for military rebels.

It also covers soldiers who took part in another failed power grab in February 2006, including former Philippine marine commandant Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda and army Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim.

A year later, Trillanes, Lim and several other officers walked out of a civilian court trying them on coup-plotting charges and took over The Manila Peninsula Hotel, also in Manila's financial district, to again demand Arroyo's resignation.

The group surrendered after government forces drove an armored carrier into the lobby and fired tear gas and warning shots.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the amnesty extinguished all criminal charges against more than 300 active and former officers and enlisted personnel involved in the three coup attempts.

However, it allows only enlisted personnel to be reinstated in the armed forces, he said.

The mutinies were the most serious challenges Arroyo had faced. She had survived impeachment bids by the political opposition that accused her of corruption, human rights violations and fraud in the 2004 elections. Arroyo has denied the charges.

Armed forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta said the military was consulted and agreed with the proposed amnesty so that "we can move on."

"It is basically geared towards a lasting peace throughout the country," he said. "At this point we can only say that military adventurism may be a thing of the past. This development is certainly welcome."

Ashley Acedillo, a former air force officer and spokesman for the main group of rebel officers called Magdalo, said the amnesty will open the way for a "new chapter in our lives."