The coup syndrome

Military coups have been the sleeping giant of Philippine politics since the restoration of democracy in the 1986 People Power Revolution. It is dangerous to write off as dead the virus of military adventurism after the adoption of the democratic 1987 Constitution. More than 10 coup attempts took place between 1986 and 2006 under three administrations: nine during the term of President Corazon Aquino, once during the administration of President Joseph Estrada (a successful though a soft military-backed coup), and once during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The germ of military adventurism merely remained dormant, and the fact that it chronically flared up for more than two decades to reinfect the political blood stream of Philippine society underscores the fact that it is dangerous to wake up this sleeping giant of putschism in our political system.


This syndrome surfaced on July 3, when Marine Col. Generoso Mariano, a naval reserve deputy commander, appeared on YouTube to speak though a video tape calling on the people to replace President Benigno Aquino III, barely a year after he took office. Mariano said: “If the present administration has no intention or will do nothing to save lives of the majority, it is the duty, it is the right of every Filipino, including soldiers, to replace the government, I repeat, replace the government.”

Mariano did not appear on the Internet in military combat uniform, like his fellow soldiers who launched coup attempts of the past (for example, Lt. Col. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan and his cohorts in RAM during the Cory regime, or Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes IV in the Oakwood mutiny during the Arroyo administration), but his statements were no less demagogic. They reiterated the assertion of previous military conspiracies that the soldiers were the ultimate saviors of the nation from corruption, incompetence and weakness and the failure of elected civilian leaders to provide strong leadership during times of crises and political instability.


The appearance of Mariano on YouTube was no less conspiratorial than those that surrounded the TV proclamations of previous coups. It is not known who put Mariano on the Internet. In fact, the military and the administration were stunned by it and they did not know how to handle Mariano—whether or not he uttered seditious statements or whether or not to take him seriously—but Mariano was confined to barracks after his appearance and investigated by military authorities. It is not also clear whether he was sacked on the day that he was to retire from the service, which would meant that he left military service in disgrace.

The reaction of the government and of the military to Mariano’s appearance spoke volumes about their confusion and concern that what he did could not be ignored. Trillanes, who is now a senator, said Mariano’s videotaped statement could be taken as a “wake-up call” in the sense that “supporters of former President Arroyo are regrouping.” He noted that “those who lost power want to regain power.”

This is not much of an explanation. Trillanes has been favored by President Aquino’s dispensation by not opposing his assumption of his Senate seat. The only sensible thing he said was that there was nothing new in the grievances aired by Mariano compared with those expressed by the Trillanes coup group when they held hostage the Makati Central Business District by seizing the Oakwood apartments. Trillanes and his cabal had hoped that through the uprising they would spark a street insurrection and bring multitudes and civilians to their aid. These calculations proved wrong and the disheartened rebels lifted the siege after negotiations with military authorities loyal to the Arroyo government. Trillanes and his group did not learn the lesson of the 1989 coup by Honasan and his group who believed that civilians would side with them in overthrowing the Cory government in the manner that the civilian masses rallied behind the rebellion against the Marcos government centered on Camp Crame and on Edsa in 1986.

The wake-up call might have been more relevant in reference to the second Aquino administration, which Mariano implicitly took to task when he said, “Our problem is that the real causes of why we are poor are not being discussed. Why we are not talking about the causes of our country’s problems?” He said he merely suggested that there was a need to implement “real changes in government.” Replacing the government, he said, was not unconstitutional. But when he called on the people to replace government, without explicitly saying through force of arms, it was plain that Mariano engaged in double talk.

The military tried to reassure the public that the coup virus “is no longer in our blood.” AFP spokesperson Commodore Miguel Rodriguez said, “We had so many lessons learned about past coups and we know that this is not the way to do things.” Rodriguez said AFP investigation had not unearthed any link with supporters of Arroyo.

But why should some members of the military take part in an Arroyo-instigated conspiracy? What benefits can they gain from involvement with her? What rewards can she give them for their loyalty to her?

The thing that the Aquino administration should worry about is the political truism that a government falls from its own weight, not from the attacks of the opposition. What in effect was Mariano’s message to the administration is: show results in improving the lives of the poor, and not with slogans or by doing nothing.


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TAGS: Marine Col. Generoso Mariano, military adventurism, Military coups, Philippine politics, President Corazon Aquino, President Joseph Etrada, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV
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