Monday, December 3, 2007

The silence of the camps

By Randy David

Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV,
a former Navy lieutenant senior
grade, are two of the smartest officers in the Armed
Forces of the Philippines. They are highly regarded by
their men and by their contemporaries in the officer
corps. Few senior officers in the Philippine military
today can match their popularity among the soldiers.
It is significant that they have also led repeated
coup attempts against the government of the day. They
are not novices in the art of military mutiny.

Knowing this, one is hard-pressed to understand why
they would venture into something like Thursday’s
standoff at the Manila Peninsula Hotel, with hardly
any arms to defend themselves, only to surrender
without a fight to the police forces sent to arrest
them. It just doesn’t make sense. The two detained
officers, together with their fellow officers and
security detail, strolled out of the courtroom during
a break in the hearing of the 2003 Oakwood mutiny.
They had no fear of being re-arrested. Only a handful
of civilian supporters accompanied them in their
unhurried walk to the five-star hotel in which they
were to make their statement. If this was going to be
a coup, it was rather unusual if not suicidal. They
came virtually without arms.

While they called on the Filipino people to join them
in their bid to oust President Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo, they didn’t sound like they were
desperately waiting for people power to pick up the
cause they were espousing. If they were banking on
popular mobilization, then they were one day too
early. They should have stretched their stay at the
Peninsula till the following day, Bonifacio Day, when
huge rallies were expected. In fact, this possibility
was what worried the government forces. So why did
Trillanes and Lim give up so quickly?

We can only speculate that their action was meant to
spark a mutiny that they thought was waiting to
happen. But because we did not see troops marching in
the streets or moving in trucks and choosing sides, we
are now led to think that the Magdalo officers badly
miscalculated. In fact, the spokesmen of the Arroyo
government lost no time in assuring the public that
the military chain of command remained intact and that
the rebels were totally isolated.

But, if indeed they were alone in this doomed and
foolish adventure, how do we explain the fact that, at
the height of the standoff, no military commander,
apart from the chief of staff, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon
Jr., came out or was presented to reiterate support
for the Arroyo government? Why did the government rely
exclusively on police forces to deal with what was
openly declared as a bid to remove the existing
government? Was Ms Arroyo afraid that, if compelled to
declare their loyalty, a good number of the nation’s
soldiers might actually side with Lim and Trillanes?

In short, what did the silence of the camps during
this six-hour siege signify? I doubt if General
Esperon or Ms Arroyo knows. Perhaps if they know
anything at all about the state of mind of the
soldiers in the camps today, it might be something
that is likely to give them sleepless nights in the
next few weeks or months. Could this be the real
reason for the sudden imposition of a midnight curfew
-- that they are seriously spooked by the possibility
of troop movements quietly taking place in the coming

For it is hard to believe that the soldiers barricaded
in their barracks would not care less about what was
going on in Makati City last Thursday. If they saw
what the rest of the nation saw, and they remained
silent, I would consider that a meaningful silence. In
a time like ours, when images from live media pack
more power than the most stirring statements, what
might the silence of citizens and soldiers possibly
indicate? Are their senses stunned and their will
paralyzed? Or are their souls shaken and courage
awakened in their hearts? Who knows?

Who would know what it means for a soldier or a
citizen to see a young senator of the republic, filled
with idealism, being shackled and handled like a sack
of potatoes by his captors as he is led to a waiting
police bus? Who would know what it means for any
viewer to see an 81-year-old prince of the Catholic
Church, hobbled by age, his left hand tied to the
right hand of another priest, being led to a waiting
police bus after having just said a prayer of hope?
Who would know what it means for someone to see a
whole line of media people, their hands bound in
plastic restraints proudly held up above their heads,
being led to a waiting police bus for “processing” as
suspects? Such were among the most memorable images
from Thursday’s episode.

I only know that one would need to be blind and
insensitive to view these snapshots as achievements of
the rule of law. You take one look at General Lim and
Senator Trillanes side by side General Esperon and
Colonel Bacarro -- and you can tell at once who among
these soldiers have their ideals intact. You take one
look at Bishop Julio Labayen and former Vice President
Tito Guingona side by side Interior Secretary Ronaldo
Puno and Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye -- and you know
at once who the liars are.

There is a mutiny in the making not just in the camps
but in the hearts of the rest of us. We were beginning
to forget what social anger is all about, and what it
means to take responsibility for the nation our heroes
bequeathed to us. Thursday set us on a new path. We
are starting to see what General Lim meant when he
said: “Dissent without action is consent.”

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