- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2003

CEBU, Philippines — Mutinous troops demanding the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo returned to their barracks late yesterday, ending a tense 19-hour standoff with the government.

“The crisis is over,” Mrs. Arroyo told a news conference at the presidential palace in Manila late last night.

She said nearly 300 heavily armed soldiers, including 70 officers, had agreed to leave an upscale Manila shopping mall and hotel complex they had occupied and booby-trapped with explosives in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Although the mutiny ended without bloodshed, it was an embarrassment for Mrs. Arroyo coming in the wake of a string of hostage-takings, terrorist bombings and the escape earlier this month from police headquarters of a top al Qaeda-linked terrorist.

The junior officers and their men agreed to end their occupation after an intense round of negotiations with senior government officials, including several retired generals.

“They have not asked for and shall not be given special treatment,” Mrs. Arroyo said, promising the mutineers would be prosecuted according to “the articles of war.”

But political analysts were quick to point out that past coup attempt leaders generally have received little more than a slap on the wrist. One general who led a coup attempt in the late 1980s was ordered to do calisthenics as punishment. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, a former army colonel who led a bloody 1989 putsch attempt and who was implicated in the latest uprising, is now a senator.

The drama began late Saturday when Mrs. Arroyo announced arrest orders had been issued for 10 junior officers who had abandoned their posts and violated regulations by taking weapons. Those officers eluded military and police checkpoints, and hours later stormed the Glorietta commercial complex in the Makati financial district.

The rebellious troops, calling themselves the Magdalo Group, claimed they weren’t staging a coup but rather trying to draw attention to problems of corruption, favoritism and incompetence in the military and the government.

“We are not attempting to grab power,” said Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes, one of the mutineers Mrs. Arroyo had ordered arrested the previous day. “We are just trying to express our grievances.”

In a videotape released shortly after their siege began, several renegade officers, dressed in camouflage uniforms with red arm bands, offered a list of grievances, including charges that some military officers were selling arms to Muslim separatists.

They also said the government had staged bombings in an effort to garner additional anti-terrorism aid from Washington. And they predicted that the government would stage a new round of bombings next month as a pretext for declaring martial law that would keep Mrs. Arroyo in power.

Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes yesterday offered to allow an independent commission to study the complaints. In a television interview, he acknowledged that some unscrupulous commanders in the southern Philippines might have sold arms to rebels.

The 300 rebels claimed to have the support of more than 2,000 other soldiers, but there was no groundswell of support for them.

The Manila commercial complex under siege included a hotel and apartment building where many foreigners live. The ambassadors from Argentina and Australia were briefly locked inside the building before being escorted to safety along with other residents.

Interior Secretary Jose Lina suggested yesterday that the government was contemplating charges against Mr. Honasan for suspected involvement in the weekend mutiny.

The senator, an outspoken critic of Mrs. Arroyo, said he met once with members of the coup attempt group at their request but was unaware of their plans.

As an army colonel 14 years ago, he led a bloody coup against then-President Corazon Aquino who came to power after a popular revolt toppled longtime strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1987.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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