- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 6, 2003

MANILA — Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, a 55-year-old former army colonel who once led troops in a failed attempt to overthrow former President Corazon Aquino, is up to his old tricks, the government says.

Mr. Honasan was charged earlier this week with leading the conspiracy that spawned last month’s short-lived coup attempt against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

It was Mr. Honasan’s 1989 failed coup against Mrs. Aquino that prompted legislation adding the term “coup d’etat” to the nation’s Revised Penal Code.

Mr. Honasan denies any links to the latest coup attempt and says the charges are being fabricated to squeeze him out of next year’s presidential election.

He has been in hiding for the past two weeks and says he’ll emerge only after Mrs. Arroyo lifts the “state of rebellion” she issued in the wake of the July 27 putsch.

The government charges that Mr. Honasan conspired with a group of junior military officers who took over a popular shopping mall and apartment complex in the city’s financial district and demanded the resignation of Mrs. Arroyo and other officials.

“Investigators have already collated enough evidence to pin down the senator and his cohorts,” said a government official.

The mutinous troops, some 70 officers and more than 250 enlisted men who wired the shopping mall with explosives, finally stood down after a tense 20-hour showdown with government negotiators.

Although they originally called for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation, they later claimed their actions were simply an effort to call attention to their complaints about corruption and incompetence in the Arroyo administration.

In January 2001, Mrs. Arroyo, then the country’s vice president, assumed the presidency after the military withdrew support from her now-jailed predecessor, Joseph Estrada, in the wake of street protests.

At the time, few political analysts bemoaned the loss of Mr. Estrada. But nearly all predicted that by resorting to what many considered extraconstitutional means to come to power, Mrs. Arroyo’s government was inviting continued adventurism.

The young officers who led last month’s coup attempt say they were drawn to Mr. Honasan’s so-called National Recovery Program, the senator’s campaign platform, to fight corruption in the government and military.

The senator acknowledges that he met with the coup’s now-jailed spokesman, Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes IV, in the past to discuss corruption in the military but denies knowledge of or any role in the coup attempt.

“Under the prevailing reign of terror arising from this so-called state of rebellion, which is nothing but martial law in disguise, I cannot expect justice from this administration and its agent,” Mr. Honasan told reporters by telephone from hiding earlier this week.

But a soldier who says he was recruited to join the plot paints a different picture. Army Maj. Perfecto Ragil, the government’s chief witness, told prosecutors that he attended a June 4 meeting between Mr. Honasan and the military officers who eventually staged the coup attempt.

The major, a communications specialist attached to the presidential palace, said he witnessed a ceremony in which Mr. Honasan and the officers drew blood from fresh knife cuts along the inside of their biceps and used the blood to seal a coup-related oath.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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