Philippines: 300 troops mutiny unmasks "war on terror"

As the annual date of the State of the Nation Address of President Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) was approaching, a group of 296 soldiers staged on July 27 a siege of the Oakwood Premier luxury hotel at the Ayala Center in Makati, a financial district of Metro Manila. Based on their own statements, as reported on Tv and radio, they were asking the entire administration to resign. As the annual date of the State of the Nation Address of President Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) was approaching, a group of 296 soldiers - 70 junior officers and 226 enlisted men of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)- staged on July 27 a siege of the Oakwood Premier luxury hotel at the Ayala Center in Makati, a financial district of Metro Manila. Based on their own statements, as reported on Tv and radio, they were asking the entire administration to resign. The rebels accused Ms Macapagal and Defense Secretary Reyes of corruption and sponsoring terrorist bombings in Mindanao. They also complained of low pay and inadequate housing of the troops. It was a public, spectacular and clear accusation of corruption against the bourgeois state system and its "war on terror".

The mutinous soldiers surrendered eventually some 20 hours later, so the action ended without bloodshed. 348 have been detained, while two officers and five enlisted men seem to be still at large. After this, 321 soldiers were charged in a civilian court with rebellion. Military chief of staff General Narciso Abaya told the press that "For the most part, especially the core group, they are already in confinement … Mutineers were recruited from all over the country from elite units including the First Army Scout Rangers Regiment, the Navy's Special Warfare Group, the Reconnaisance Force of the Marines, and at least 12 Air Force officers including one from its strike wing."

Claims of the mutinous soldiers

The most sensational claim of the officers who rebelled on July 27 is that Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes and Brigadier General Victor Corpus, the military intelligence chief who resigned his post last week, masterminded the terror attacks in Mindanao, at the Davao City airport and wharfs on April 3 and March 4, 2003. The two attacks killed 39 people and wounded over 200 others. The junior officers who rebelled, mostly combat-tested in the battlefields of Mindanao, alleged that the bullets and firearms killing many of their comrades-in-arms in Davao come from the corruption-laden Armed Forces; and that the Davao bombings were done by government agents to place a terrorist tag on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and scrape more anti-terrorism funds from the United States. According to these accusations, President GMA was behind this terror strategy, aimed at winning more financial support from George Bush. Junior officers also accused the administration of planning to detonate bombs in Metro Manila as a prelude to a declaration of martial law later this month so that Ms Macapagal could hold on to power beyond 2004. Congressman Prospero Pichay went as far as to suggest that the Davao bombings were too well organized for the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group to have carried them out! They accused the military and defense leadership of selling firearms and ammunition to guerrillas in the southern archipelago of Mindanao.

Rebel officers and soldiers read their declaration
during the seize of the Hotel

The 300 rebels demanded:

1. Removal of the leaders of the corrupt Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
2. End the State sponsored terrorism by condemning the state planned bombings in Davao, Mindanao, where several innocent civilians died after blaming it on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
3. Stop allowing soldiers to die in order to justify politicians issue for them to make a law, e.g. Anti-Terror bills, State of Emergency, etc.
4. Better conditions for soldiers, in particular a reduction in the pay differentials between the ranks.

The following day, Monday 28, there was a joint rally organized by left-wing and militant groups in Manila to protest at the president's state of the nation address. There were more than 5000 protesters there. On July 29, there was another rally of 3000 workers organized by the trade union center Solidarity of Philippines Workers (BMP). Both rallies demanded that the Arroyo government answer the soldiers' charges, specifically that the terrorist bombings in Davao and Mindanao were organized by the government, and that the government was planning a coup and martial law.

What inspired a group of young officers - whose careers in the military were virtually assured - to risk everything in a 20 hours mutiny? We think that the July 27 mutiny is not an accident, but expresses a growing discontent within the troops of the army, especially the young troops. They have seen that the bourgeois state uses them as cannon meat and decided to expose the big lies that hid behind the propaganda of the "war on terror". They just thought that enough is enough and wanted the masses to be aware of this. Their great merit is that they started to fight the disgusting bourgeois propaganda that justified every kind of state repression since September 11. We think that their action could become the catalyst for the wide spreading of the discussion inside the ranks of the army, the youth and the working class of the Philippines.

The statements of President GMA and top officials of the Army and Defence, which discarded the soldiers' accusations as lies, aren't fooling the militants of the left. Almost every political group of the left, from mao-stalinist CPP-NPA-NDF to the mass BMP union center, congratulated the mutinous officers for their action. If you go and read the letters posted to the Inquirer newspaper website, you will see comments like these:

"It's no longer a new story. We all know that government is riddled with corruption. Even a kid knows that. The mutineers were just brave enough to air that problem and I salute them." Signed N.C. from Manila

"They have guts and brains. Rizal said that the youth is the hope of the nation. They stood up for honor and dignity and fought corruption in government. They were unafraid to speak up their minds, which is the spirit of freedom." Signed M.T.C. psychology professor, from Palawan.

The gangster methods of GMA government: the GUAC case

Can we believe the accusations of the mutinous soldiers? I think so. We can record many other facts about the gangster methods of this government. For instance, like the previous governments, it is still supporting the right wing militias of GUAC (Geographic Unit of Armed Citizens) which used to attack union and socialist militants. At the same time the government allows the bosses to organize similar corps for killing workers’ leaders. Every year an average of 1200 are killed this way. GMA wasn't the one to start this sinister tradition of impunity, but of course she did nothing to stop it. The Army and GUAC usually enter into action side by side in Mindanao. So, who's the real terrorist? How do you define a government that supports and cuddles up to the GUAC?

[As you may notice, I’ve cut this part of the article because the question of peace talks between the left party RPMP-RPA-ABB and the Government has obviously nothing to do with the gangsters of GUAC and it is better to avoid any confusion. I will deal soon with this matter with a new article – Felix Zorba, October 7, 2003]

The plight of the Philipino soldiers

"I spent eight years of combat duty in Mindanao", one rebel officer told the July 28 New York Times. "I saw my friends die, but did their deaths have any value? I say they died for nothing."

If you use to ride cabs and talk to cab drivers in the Philippines, you will find that some of them are ex soldiers. We recently discussed with one of them, who served as a marine in Mindanao. He told us "It is a foolishness to get enlisted because you risk your life everyday for a few pesos, serving not the people but the interest of corrupt politicians and army commanders. Common people of Mindanao fear the army much more than guerrillas. Most of them still support guerrilla. Four out of ten victims of repression are civilians."

According to Ramani Da Silva (PMP – Filipino Workers' Party), "Rebel soldiers reflect a new generation of soldiers who are legitimately disgruntled with the conditions within the military. They are junior officers who graduated from the Philippines Military Academy in 1995, 1996 and 1997. They have been used very intensively in the unsuccessful war against the Moro people in Mindanao, which is having a big impact across the military. This mutiny shows that there are major differences within the military, especially between the rank and file and the high-ranking officers. While soldiers are paid very poorly and their families live in shanty towns next to the military camps, the generals are like small capitalists, making huge amounts of money from extortion, kidnappings and graft. There are also reports of resentment by Philippines soldiers over the presence of US troops in the war in Mindanao. This disgruntlement won't easily be reconciled, I believe there will be more outbreaks of discontent from rank-and-file soldiers."

The ranks and most of lower officials of the army live in very bad conditions. A private soldier is paid 5,775 pesos (USD106) per month. Corruption among senior officers is no secret. Soldiers believe they're used by the government as cannon meat and tools for keeping Mindanao under pressure. Young people that enter the AFP are forced by unemployment. The top officers can enjoy the fruits of corruption just like bourgeois politicians do. The funds coming from USA imperialism are used for equipment, military training and political corruption. The same that happens with Plan Colombia in Latin America. The AFP ranks are working class children. That is why the state has never been able to use the army against the popular revolts and demonstrations during 1986 and 2001 in Metro Manila.

Hundreds of young officers and ranks, even from élite corps, started two years ago a discussion on the plight of the army. Edsa II and III mass demonstrations inspired them and their discussion shifted towards political aims. We have already analyzed those events, so you can read our previous article to better understand the social and political background and perspectives. New popular uprisings against the government will be soon on the order of the day and progressive troops will have a new choice, that is the possibility to actively join the class struggle against capitalism. This will be a new development in the history of the class struggle in the Philippines. Edsa IV comes, the ranks and junior officers of the army will not only sympathize with the protesters, but they will take part in their actions. This will provide the working class with a new weapon: the best elements from the ranks of the army and the real chance of arming the revolution against the right wing clique that dominates the police and the AFP.

We like to recall what happened in Venezuela in 1992. President Hugo Chavez Frías lead at that time a coup as a left-wing army officer. His aim was to free Venezuela from corrupted politicians and establish a progressive government for improving the conditions of the working class and the urban poor of the country. His plan eventually failed and he was jailed for a period. During the following four years his popularity increased and later on he won 6 political elections and referenda in the course of a revolutionary process. The massive support of the Venezuelan working class and the urban poor already defeated two coups staged by the bourgeoisie and USA imperialism.

The claims of Philipino rebel officers and ranks have a deep democratic character. They correctly want to fight corruption and put an end to the "war on terror" permanent campaign of the GMA government. We fully support their demands. Now they're paying with prison. We urge all Philipino socialist and soldiers to call for their release and unconditional freedom, since the 355 didn't kill nor commit any crime. Their demands are completely justified. Their denouncement of the rotten GMA regime should be extended to USA imperialism, which is the father of the policies of Philippines government. In fact, USA imperialism quickly came to condemn their demonstration: US State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore made a formal statement, declaring "No one should be under any doubt that we fully support the legitimate government... Let there be no mistake that a military coup would have immediate negative consequences, including consequences on the bilateral relationship." What hypocrisy! While supporting GMA corrupt government in the Philippines, Bush administration is supporting every attempt of coup for overthrowing by violent means the much more democratic government of Chavez in Venezuela!

The reasons for "war on terror" in the Philippines

After the July 27 rebellion every Philipino worker and soldier can see the truth before his eyes. The permanent "war on terror" is the excuse for keeping on exploiting and repressing not only the workers of Mindanao, but also every industrial union and committed socialist group in the country. On Sunday 27 of July President GMA declared the "state of rebellion" that served for many days as prohibition of the democratic right of strike, demonstration and so on. She wanted to avoid every act of solidarity with the rebel soldiers. She is aware of the lack of support for her government. Her popularity dropped very quickly as we predicted soon after she took power in February 2001. During the next months, soldiers will see no improvement of their conditions. Money from US administration will keep pouring into the pockets of bourgeois politicians and corrupt AFP's top officials. The repression against Mindanao people will continue and more US troops will enter the country. Mrs Arroyo became one of the first Asian leaders to fully support the Washington's "war on terror", allowing 660 US officials to enter the country to train troops. In July last year, her foreign minister resigned over her decision to bring US ground troops and marines in to help fight guerrilla in the south.

Protest demo organized by BMP
against the State of the Nation Address (July 27)

However, the need to fight MILF guerrilla and terrorist bandits of Aby Sayyaf is just and excuse that serve two needs of GMA and US imperialism. On the side of GMA, 1) The need to accumulate more means and excuses for repression against any rebellion of the working class and soldiers, since a future repetition of year 2001 mass revolts terrify GMA and imperialism; 2) The need of militarizing the country and get more US financial aid in order to keep her clique wealthy and well in power since her social support is very weak; the President is wavering between fulfilling her promise not to run again next year or breaking it because of pressures from her family and her subordinates who would be nothing without her. 3) The need to divert workers' attention from their urgent problems to the "war on terror". GMA declared the state of rebellion already two times in just 26 months and everything indicates that she's preparing a concentration of power in her hands. In this epoch of senile crises of capitalism, democracy can slip into authoritarian regime very easily: it all depends on what kind of regime better suits the immediate needs of the capitalist class. In the words of a bourgeois journalist of Manila: "The Macapagal-Arroyo administration has merely insisted on calling them terrorists and on waging war with them. The reason for this being to capitalize on the United States' willingness to supply more arms and aid to countries that can see terrorists under every bed. All of it has given a windfall to the Armed Forces in terms of a bigger budget, more military aid, and a decisive role in national life.. All they need to do is utter the magic word, "terrorist," and neither business nor the Church, neither media nor civil society, dare ask too many questions or look too closely. That is a recipe for tyranny. And for coups".

On the side of US imperialism, the needs is keep U.S. direct hold of its authority on imposing their economic and strategic interest in the Southeast Asia and the Pacific by means of direct military intervention in the most strategic spot of the map, the Philippines, where from they can control China see, Indian and Pacific ocean. The ridiculous excuse to fight Abu Sayyaf terror can be unmasked by the fact that this group is just a local gang of bandits. The Bush administration is strengthening the chain of support for US imperialism which goes from Taipeh, through Manila to Seoul, in order to better prepare the defense of US capitalist interests in unstable Indonesia and build a strong counterweight to the power of China. Mindanao is an important military base, very close to Indonesia and also a rich archipelago of natural resources like copper, gold, woods, fish, and a fertile soil for big plantations. Therefore US and Philippine capitalism will keep crushing every proletarian and national liberation movement in Mindanao after labeling it as terrorist, for the sake of US big corporations.

A revolutionary programme for Philipino revolutionary soldiers and workers

The 355 rebels tried to act as a catalyst for inspiring a mass revolt similar to Edsa II in year 2001. Just like Chavez in 1992 in Venezuela, they ended up under arrest without overthrowing the government. The reason is that the traditional and strong methods of the working class and urban poor of metro Manila are very different from the coup-like methods. It is not enough to seize a luxury hotel for starting a mass uprising: 20 hours later the revolution didn't start yet and they had to surrender. Note that 70 of the rebel soldiers were among the élite troops that GMA called on July 25 to defend Malacañang Palace from the danger of a coup. Of course, during July 26 they deserted and joined the rebels in Makati. This fact alone makes it clear that the military base of the bourgeois state is very weak too.

The demands of the soldiers (salary, democracy, end of corruption, end of war on terror, resign of the leaders of the State) cannot be satisfied under the capitalist system and government. As we've already explained in my previous article, corruption is the natural relation between capitalist economy and the bourgeois politicians, because the alter are there for defending the general interests of the Filipino bosses and the US imperialism. If we ask for the end of "war on terror", what we do is to call for US troops to go home and renounce to reestablish their bases inside the Philippines. If we ask for the resign of all the corrupt political and military leaders, what we ask is to destroy the whole State apparatus of capitalism in the Philippines (because they're all corrupt). Finally, if we ask for the end of the privileges inside the army, what we demand is a democratic army, which is incompatible with the repressive tool that capitalist State requires it to be.

Nevertheless, we have to support all the soldiers' demands and add new ones, in order to make agitation and create debate around it. It's in the soldiers and workers interest that these demands will melt with the workers' demands and in so doing build a transition platform for which to fight with the methods of the proletariat.

  • Soldiers' salary and workers' minimum salary of 15'000 PhP per month. No officer should be paid more than 20'000 PhP.
  • Democracy in the army and democracy into the factories and workplaces: officers should be elected by the ranks according to their honesty and commitment to the soldiers (and submitted to recall) as well as shop stewards should be legally allowed in every factory on the bases of workers' free election regardless they're permanent or contract employed. Full union and political rights inside the barracks and inside the workplaces.
  • Soldiers' delegates control over the budget of AFP and workers control over the balance of every factory that denies improvements of workers' salary.
  • End of "war on terror" policy and end to military repression in Mindanao, as well as end of anti-labor laws and police repression against workers' strikes. Ban of GUAC and bosses militias.
  • Withdraw the US troops from the Philippines and cancel the "State of rebellion" powers of the President and the chief of the Army.
  • Land reform for Mindanao and the rest of the country in order to expropriate the multinational corporation and big landowners and provide good jobs for the plantation workers. The soldiers should help the workers (their brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers) to expropriate those lands.

These democratic demands will not be met by any bourgeois government because they undermine the rule of capital and its control over the State apparatus. Only a powerful mobilization of the soldiers and the working class can turn them into reality, while a nationwide discussion on this programme can prepare such a mobilization. This is the immediate task of the 355 rebels, together with BMP union federation and all the socialist groups that sympathized with the junior officers that denounced eth "war on terror".

We have to campaign for the establishment of workers, soldiers, and unemployed committees which will discuss this platform and spread it throughout the Philippines. The central axis of this campaign should be a workers' government based on the soldiers and workers committees which will have the task to satisfy all the demands. Of course, such a government would have a socialist nature because it shall base itself on the workers and the soldiers. This was the basic formula that allowed the soviets to overthrow capitalism in Russia in October 1917. So, in order to better defend this new government, the soldiers and the workers shall change the nature of the Army. Not a permanent and independent bourgeois army, but to provide arms to the workers councils (or committees) for defending themselves from the harassment which the forces of reaction will stage against them both in the barracks and the workplaces, for defending their government from both bosses militias and foreign military intervention.

About the national question in Mindanao

The 30 years permanent intervention of the AFP in the southern archipelago of Mindanao, as well as the US military intervention poses once more the question of the right of self-determination of its people. This is a key issue for every socialist and revolutionary soldier in the Philippines. The national rights are something that bourgeois states aren't going to assure in this epoch of decaying of capitalism. This is the case of advanced capitalist countries like Spain (repression against Euskadi), England (repression against North Ireland) as well as underdeveloped capitalist countries like Indonesia or the Philippines in South East Asia. That is why only the working class can satisfy the democratic demands of self-determination. In fact, contrary to the bourgeois class, proletariat is the only class that doesn't need to exploit any sector of the population in order to survive. It is not in the interest of the workers, nor the soldiers, to keep under the boot the people of Mindanao. On the contrary, this benefits the landlords and their friends of big planters corporations and banks, because the repression allow them to better exploit both Christian and Muslim workers.

The area of Moro's islands was divided by imperialism between Malaysia and the Philippines. First Spanish, then American and now bourgeois Philipino colonialists found Mindanao very hard to subdue. No Philipino government has been able to crush the resistance of guerrillas. The history of the domination of Mindanao is a history of first semi-slavery and feudal, then capitalist exploitation by the multinationals like Dole Corporation or "deforestator" Mitsubishi Corporation. Capitalists and bourgeois politicians made every effort to divide workers by using religious discrimination. They do this because they don't want Muslim and Christian workers to unite against capitalism. The nationalistic and reformist perspective of CPP-NPA failed to promote the unity of the working class of Mindanao and free the Philippines from capitalism. The MNLF and MILF militants do not like the Stalinists approach to the national question, especially because they are well aware about the bureaucratic oppression against nationalities in the former USSR.

The governments of Manila, which have always been under the influence of the Church hierarchy, promoted the religious discrimination strategy. The national oppression against the Moro communities in Mindanao produced ‘miracles'. Between 1920 and 1970 the number of mosque was never higher than 60, while between 1970 and 1983 they grew up to 1500! As Marxists use to say, national question is fundamentally a question of bread. It is a fact that the first indigenous communities to suffer expropriation by landowner and later on capitalist were Lumad and Moro tribes. It is also a fact that in the last century even the colonies of Christian communities were expropriated by multinational corporations. Here in the Philippines is a question of exploitation of poor people of Mindanao (south) by rich capitalist from their government in Luzon, Tokyo, Seoul and Washington.

The resistance against the oppression create MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) and MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), that nothing have to do with the bandits of Abu Sayyaf which is a monstrous creature of US imperialism just like the Taliban. The struggle that lead to the overthrow of Marcos regime during the 80s gave its temporary fruits when the following governments of Aquino and Ramos had to give some concession to the Moro indigenous. Referenda were permitted for the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Many MNLF leaders became legal political leaders. Their difficulties rooted in the economic backwardness of Mindanao and the lack of a revolutionary outlook. No development was possible out of a struggle for the socialist revolution. The petty bourgeois leaders of MNLF and CPP-NPA didn't struggle for revolutionary unity of the workers of the Philippines. They thought they could develop Mindanao inside the framework of capitalist system. This proved impossible.

In December 2002, the antiwar movement ‘entered' Mindanao. The petty bourgeois MPPM, Movement for Peace among the Peoples of Mindanao, organized a conference where Christian, Moro and Lumad gathered. They launched a campaign for an UN sponsored referendum for the self-determination of Muslim… of course under capitalist bases. Even MNLF put more than once its hopes into the hands on UN secretary. In vain.

Both Estrada and GMA administrations increased the military intervention to the point we all can see now. The last two presidents were the ones to break most of the ceasefire and truces. In the words of Eduardo Ermita, GMA's special adviser, "We will not offer MILF anything more than we offered MNLF: jobs in the army and police for some of its members and a few modifications to the autonomy law". The growing conflict provoked the split of MILF from MNLF and what we have now is that the leaders of MILF are fighting a guerrilla warfare (just like CPP-NPA) for achieving an Independent Islamic (and capitalist) Republic for Mindanao. All of them are basing their policy on the basic programme of redistribution of the land among small peasants, which is a reactionary demand since the productivity of labor would remain very low this way and this wouldn't produce a classless society. Our struggle should be aimed to the expropriation of landowner and big planters corporation in order to establish collective workers' properties. This would require in turn using modern machines for agriculture, which could be provided only by the nationalization of the whole industry in the rest of the Philippines.

This is why we struggle for a socialist revolution. The only way to connect with the left-wing soldiers of the army and the workers of the whole country is to struggle for a common cause: the abolition of the capitalist State. We defend the right to self-determinate for the people of Mindanao, but we tell them that this is impossible under capitalism. A voluntary Socialist Federation of the Philipino Nationalities, with autonomous regions that will develop and promote their indigenous culture, languages and religion, would be a much better place to live in for workers and peasants. This would be the first step towards a Socialist Federation of South East Asia. This is what we fight for.

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