September 2003   

Soap Opera “Coup Attempt” in the Philippines

Perplexities of the July 27 Incident

The following article was written by the Philippine RKG (Revolutionary Communist Group), which sympathizes with the League for the Fourth International.

MANILA – “Coup – Coup – Roo – Coup!” the rooster crowed in the early morning of July 27 as around 200 officers and enlisted men surrounded and took over the Oakwood Hotel in Makati [the downtown business district of Manila]. The “mutineers” (as some of the bourgeois press labeled them) called themselves the “Magdalo Group” – in reference to the Magdalo faction of Emilio Aguinaldo, one of the leaders of the Katipunan [the clandestine group fighting against the U.S. invaders] during the bourgeois Philippine Revolution of 1898 – and come from all the services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Its leaders are junior officers of the AFP (from the rank of captain on down). The group itself was comprised mainly of the highly skilled, specialized branches of the AFP in the forefront of the Philippine military’s counterinsurgency campaign.

Army captain Gambala and Navy lieutenants Trillanes and Maestro-Campo – three of the mutineers’ leaders – demanded that President Arroyo, Defense Secretary Reyes and Chief of the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP) Corpus step down. (Later, before they were “convinced” to “go back to barracks,” they toned down their demands, asking only for Reyes’ and Corpus’ heads.) They threw in charges of corruption within the military, specifically the rampant selling of arms by officials of the Department of National Defense, particularly Reyes, and in the AFP. The junior officers claimed these arms had ended up in the hands of the leftist and Muslim insurgents they were fighting.

Philippine military mutineers, 27.07.03 Philippines “coup plotters” Gambala (seated left) and Trillanes (right) in press conference, July 27. Armbands bore symbol of Filipino independence fighters against U.S. invasion in 1898. Yet mutineers accuse generals of undercutting war on leftist and Muslim insurgents. (Photo: Bullit Marques/AP)

They also accused certain senior officials of the AFP of orchestrating bombings and attacks on the Muslim populace in Mindanao that would later be blamed on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other “terrorist groups.”

As the hours progressed, the “coup plotters” (as others in the bourgeois media termed them) and Arroyo’s regime were both adamant in their positions, refusing to give in to the other’s demands. Arroyo herself looked gloomy in front of the media as she gave an ultimatum that the mutineers should surrender by 5 p.m. (later extended to 7 p.m.). Senators, among them opposition leader Gregorio Honasan, and several retired generals were scrambling in negotiating for a peaceful resolution of the “conflict.”

By 7 p.m. (Arroyo’s extended ultimatum), the so-called mutiny ended as the Magdalo group agreed to return to the barracks provided that the regime would ensure that participants in the incident (except the core of officers) would not be persecuted and that the core of the Magdalo Group alone would take the responsibility. With that dramatic soap opera ending, the mutiny ended.

Meanwhile, some of the “mainstream” (i.e., fake) left hurriedly offered their support to the Magdalo Group. The Maoist/Stalinist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Party Information Bureau issued a statement tacitly supporting the Magdalo Group. The CPP-PIB noted that “the CPP agrees with the three main revelations by the rebel AFP officers. In the group’s statement read this morning by Maj. Gerardo Gambala, the rebel group exposed the rampant corruption of senior officers, the direct responsibility of Defense Secretary Reyes and ISAFP Chief Gen. Victor Corpus in the Davao bombings and the plan of the Arroyo ruling clique to perpetuate itself in power by means of imposing martial law come August.” The CPP spokesperson, Gregorio Rosal, called on “military officers and enlisted men with legitimate grievances to ‘further deepen their understanding of the why the AFP is on a losing course and why the revolutionary people’s war is on the correct and winning course and is widely supported by the people’.” He also called on “junior officers who are truly and sincerely pro-people to ‘emulate the tradition of Lt. Crispin Tagamolila and join the revolutionary movement or find ways to coordinate and cooperate with the revolutionary movement’.” Lt. Tagamolila of the AFP joined the CPP-led New People’s Army in the 1970s.

On the other hand the Lagmanite trade union center Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP – Solidarity of Filipino Workers*) mobilized about 5,000 people the day after the July 27 incident in conjunction with Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address to Congress to demand “that the Arroyo government answer the soldiers’ charges.” Another group, the Stalinist Partido ng Manggagawang Pilipino (PMP – Party of the Filipino Workers) portrays the Magdalo group as a bourgeois nationalist group. Ramani da Silva, International Officer of the PMP, when asked by the Australian reformist Green Left Weekly (6 August) how he would describe the mutineers’ political perspective, answered: “They are motivated by a strong nationalist sentiment, but are new and raw politically.” He also said that the Magdalo Group is a “new generation of soldiers who are legitimately disgruntled with the conditions within the military.”

With all the support of the “mainstream left,” even many ordinary working people tended to view the Magdalo Group as giving a “new kick” against the traditional carnival-like politics that has been the natural character of the Philippine political landscape, and some may wonder if the Magdalo Group is truly revolutionary.

The Rebolusyonaryong Grupo ng mga Komunista warns that the Magdalo Group recalls mutinies by hard-line junior officers in Latin American who in the 1980s sometimes staged cuartelazos (barracks revolts), striking a nationalist posture while calling for intensified counterinsurgency wars (financed, supplied and advised by the Pentagon) against leftist rebels. Although the Magdalo Group cannot be compared with the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) headed by then colonel Gregorio Honasan that instigated a coup d’état against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos that eventually was called EDSA 1 [the so-called “People’s Power” revolt that was actually orchestrated by the military] in 1986, then later launched several coup attempts against the Aquino regime during the late ’80s, their class interests are the same as the RAM – that is, to maintain and strengthen the rule of the local bourgeoisie.

The “mutineers” are first and foremost anti-Communist and anti-Moro. Proof of this is their deployment in units that are at the forefront of counterinsurgency operations (like the Light Reaction Company), urban warfare (“anti-terrorist”) and demolitions, and the fact that their main demand (corruption in the AFP, etc.) is essentially calling on the AFP and the bourgeois state itself to wage a tougher and leaner campaign against the so-called “red menace” and “Moro terrorists.” For revolutionary communists, it is important to understand the class alignment of forces instead of indiscriminately throwing support to groups or forces alien to the working class. It is elementary for communists and any class-conscious worker to know who is the enemy.

In the case of the Magdalo Group, it is clear that they are a clique of junior officers and personnel disgruntled at the way their corrupt superiors in the AFP and the government handled the counterinsurgency program. They are not a “new generation” of soldiers “legitimately disgruntled with the conditions,” as the PMP claims. Their so-called “coup d’état,” :mutiny,” or whatever the bourgeois press calls their Oakwood take-over sought to strengthen the institutions (specifically the AFP) that preserve and protect the ruling class and the exploitative capitalist system. By launching a soap opera “mutiny,” they sought to pressure the bourgeois state to wage a leaner and tougher offensive against its “enemies” (i.e., the working class, the Moro peoples and all the oppressed).

It is quite a wonder that the so-called “mainstream left” like the CPP, PMP, and the BMP have thrown their support to this anti-communist bunch of military officers. These “mainstream leftists,” satisfying their opportunist popular-front program, decided to embrace the Magdalo Group to help them to “further deepen their understanding,” as if the Magdalo Group did not understand that their enemy are the workers, and all the oppressed!

The host of fake left groups that see the “mutineers” as “nationalists” try to cover their eyes, ears and mouths from the truth, namely that every “alliance” the working class makes with so-called “progressive and nationalist military forces,” results in the bloody defeat and destruction of the working class (Stalin’s alliance with Chiang Kai-shek in China in 1925-27, leading to the Shanghai massacre of April 1927; the Indonesian CP’s support to Sukarno, leading to the slaughter of 1 million leftists and unionists in 1965; and Allende’s illusions in “constitutionalist” military officers led by Pinochet in Chile that led to the bloody Santiago coup in September 1973 are only some of the examples on this long list). It is no wonder that these “leftists” have repeatedly been outflanked by the bourgeois opposition in EDSA 1 (led by the “yellow movement” of the late CIA-boy Benigno Aquino together with Enrile and Ramos) in 1986 and EDSA 2 in 2001 (led by Arroyo, Ramos, de Venecia and the pro-capitalist Council for Philippine Affairs).

The key for the working class and revolutionary-minded militants concerning the July 27 incident is to clearly see the need to break with the “tradition” of making allies with a faction of the bourgeoisie, and the need to break with the fake left that keeps making these popular-front alliances with the bourgeoisie. The RGK fights against this treacherous “tradition” and seeks to build a genuinely revolutionary vanguard party of the working class that will lead in the struggle for the workers to expropriate their class enemy, the bourgeoisie (including the various bourgeois opposition factions). The road towards decisive victory of the working class is through the Trotskyist program of permanent revolution – the program of the Russian October Revolution of 1917 – against the Stalinist and social-democratic class collaboration and popular-front alliances as the CPP, PMP and the BMP do.

The RGK calls on workers, women and revolutionary-minded individuals who clearly see the elementary difference between the class interests of the anti-Communist forces that participated in the July 27 incident and the bankrupt opportunist politics of the fake left to contact us at rgk7@hotmail.com or at internationalistgroup@msn.com or visit the www.internationalist.org website to learn more.

September 20,  2003
Central Group, Rebolusyonaryong Grupo ng mga Komunista

*Filemon (“Popoy”) Lagman, head of the BMP union federation and a former leader of the PCP, was assassinated in February 2001.

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com