Interesting times

I do not necessarily agree with Sen. Joker Arroyo’s candid assessment, that the Arroyo administration is only one scandal away from collapsing, but I do think that, contrary to Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye’s assurances, the administration is headed for more trouble. It suffers from the Chinese curse; it is living in interesting times.

The escape of four of the Magdalo mutineers is troubling, because it raises questions about how much support the new generation of military adventurists enjoys from within the Armed Forces. There are other factors, of course, but the question of internal support  is not the least of them.

(Military adventurism? Yes, I still see any attempt by members of the armed services to forcibly enter the public square or hold it hostage — that would be the Oakwood formula — as misguided and ultimately anti-democratic.)

When the news of the escape spread, late on Tuesday night, speculation was rife that there was more to it than met the eye. The mutineers’ counsel, Roel Pulido, even suggested that the lives of the four officers involved were in danger. The Army was about to transfer the four mutineers from their detention area to a smaller building, but the transfer, Pulido said, was illegal. It wasn’t until early this morning that Pulido finally received a phone call from one of the escapees, confirming the escape.

The Army chief has raised the possibility that Pulido in fact helped the mutineers escape.

Army chief Lieutenant General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. yesterday insinuated that Pulido was an accomplice in the escape.

"The allegation that the escape of Captain Rabonza et al. is theatrics orchestrated by the Army is bereft of truth. Such allegation by one Attorney Pulido is in fact meant to cover his possible complicity in the escape," Esperon said at a news conference.

Complicity? Esperon again, in a related Inquirer story.

"We’re looking at possible angles. What’s important here is this occurred while one Attorney Pulido was negotiating at the detention center," the Army chief said at a news conference.

Pulido is not amused. In interviews, he has said he rushed to Fort Bonifacio precisely because he had heard about the planned transfer.

Pulido related in the pleading that on Tuesday afternoon, one of the four soldiers informed him that they were to be transferred to the ISG compound, and that a certain Major Baluyan "threatened" them that "they would be bodily carried to the intelligence compound if they refused to move."

The lawyer said that upon his arrival at the CMU to check on his clients, four Army officers whom he identified as General Rafael, Colonel Fajardo, Major Baluyan and a certain Major Tolentino told him that Esperon had ordered them to transfer the four soldiers.

The "pleading" mentioned above refers to the case Pulido has filed against Esperon et al because of the allegedly illegal transfer. I can already see Esperon’s defense: The proposed transfer may not have been sanctioned by a court order, but he thought it was necessary precisely because the Army had gotten wind of the escape plan. (Thus the legal issue is joined, yes?)

But the escape of the four mutineers did not happen in a vacuum. It follows the escape of Capt. Nick Faeldon, a mutiny leader who has launched a virtual campaign and seems destined to reap virtual results, last month. (Dean Bocobo has the scoop.) Tellingly, Tuesday’s escape came only hours after Navy Lt. Trillanes, the spokesman of the Magdalo mutiny, gave a remarkable news briefing after his court hearing in Makati City: remarkable because of what he said (he called on the people to choose between the President and generic "change," saying the Armed Forces would support its choice) and how he said it (he was under heavy guard, but he was allowed to hold forth on the state of the world).

Now there is no question about sympathy from the ranks and his fellow officers: Trillanes enjoys that. But does he, and by extension the other Magdalo leaders, enjoy the active kind of sympathy, the kind that allows escapees to hide right under the noses of the generals?

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