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54 AFP mutineers plead guilty, get 7 years

by Pesante-USA Thursday, Apr. 12, 2007 at 2:03 PM 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Bld. Los Angeles, CA 90026

A military court, in a plea bargain deal, sentenced yesterday 54 soldiers out of the more than 600 involved in the failed Oakwood mutiny in July 2003 to seven years and six months in prison. Aside from the jail term, the seven-member military tribunal chaired by Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Legaspi also ordered the dishonorable discharge of the convicted officers. In secret balloting, the seven members unanimously found the 54 soldiers guilty of violating the Articles of War for "conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline."

54 AFP mutineers plead guilty, get 7 years

By Jaime Laude

The Philippine Star 04/12/2007

Manila-- A military court, in a plea bargain deal, sentenced yesterday 54 soldiers out of the more than 600 involved in the failed Oakwood mutiny in July 2003 to seven years and six months in prison.

Aside from the jail term, the seven-member military tribunal chaired by Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Legaspi also ordered the dishonorable discharge of the convicted officers.

In secret balloting, the seven members unanimously found the 54 soldiers guilty of violating the Articles of War for "conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline."

The officers had asked that in exchange for pleading guilty to a lesser offense, they be spared the more serious charge of mutiny, which is punishable by longer prison terms.

The convicted officers, mostly first and second lieutenants in the Air Force and Army and equivalent ranks in the Navy, showed no emotion as they listened to court-martial member Lt. Col. Ana Escarlan read the verdict.

The dishonorable discharge will take effect upon completion of the prison term and upon approval of the President. Escarlan said only the President, as the commander-in-chief, is empowered to forfeit the benefits and salaries of the convicted officers.

At the same hearing, the court also approved the release of four other junior officers after the Army Special Adjudication Board said it found no probable cause against them. Seven other junior officers did not join in the plea bargain.

A court official announced that the officers will be freed on Jan. 27, 2008, after the tribunal included time served and shaved off an additional three years due to several mitigating circumstances, including the officers’ peaceful surrender and their guilty plea.

As part of the plea bargain deal, the convicted officers will not be moved to other detention centers. The officers are detained at Fort San Felipe, Villamor Air Base, and Fort Bonifacio.

The court-martial’s verdict does not cover the 29 alleged ringleaders, including Lt. Senior Grade Antonio Trillanes IV, who is gunning for a Senate seat. They are also facing coup d’etat charges before a civilian court.

Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro, AFP spokesman, meanwhile said the court-martial verdict would also be submitted to AFP chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. for approval.

"To be dishonorably discharged from the institution that you vowed to serve, that’s something big and heavy," Bacarro told reporters.

Defense counsel Trixie Angeles said the plea bargain would give the young officers the chance for a brighter future outside military service.

"We have no thoughts about their feelings. They’re still processing it," Angeles said when asked about the sentiment of her clients after the verdict was released.

Another defense counsel, Hortencio Domingo, said the verdict was acceptable to the officers. "It is acceptable to them. There were no complaints," he said.

Domingo said his clients had been expecting a dishonorable discharge all along because they had pleaded guilty to one of the charges.

"If you’re guilty, it’s already given that you will be dishonorably discharged from service," Domingo pointed out.

One of the 54 officers, who asked not to be identified, said: "Nothing is happening in the case for too long. This is okay. This should end. Many things can happen."

Some of the officers were even smiling as they were being led out of the AFP officers club that served as the courtroom.

Earlier in the hearing, the court approved the release of four junior officers upon the recommendation of the Army Special Adjudication Board, for lack of probable cause against them.

The four officers were 1Lts. Edmund Bandilla and Marcelino Mendoza, and 2Lts. Gerald Daen and Percival Alcanar.

Renegade soldiers took over the posh Oakwood Premiere apartment and hotel building housing businessmen and diplomats for one day while demanding the resignation of President Arroyo and other officials.

They surrendered after the military gave them an ultimatum to give up or face attack.

A fact-finding commission concluded the mutiny was not a spontaneous protest, but part of a larger plot to seize power from Mrs. Arroyo and appoint a 15-member junta.

It said the coup attempt was rooted in corruption and politicization of the Philippine military that had occurred since the early 1970s under late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

It was one of the most serious challenges faced by Arroyo since she took power in a 2001 "people power" uprising that ousted her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, on charges of corruption. - With AP, AFP


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