The Philippines: Mutiny in Manila

Around 2:30 a.m. on July 27, a group of 300 junior military officers took over a part of downtown Manila’s business district. They ringed explosives around a shopping mall and a luxury apartment building, demanded the resignation of the country’s president and defense secretary, called for better equipment for soldiers, and accused the government of selling arms to insurgent groups. And then, 18 hours later, the mutineers headed back to their barracks. No shots were fired.

Few took the officers’ threats seriously. “Were it not for the aggravation, the disrupted schedules, and the incalculable damage it caused to the economy, the escapade of a band of naive young officers might be appropriately described as comical,” asserted a July 29 Philippine Star column.

One reason for the calm was that public sentiment was not wholly critical of the mutineers’ message. “Common folk found common cause with the captains who cried that their men must march to war in holey boots and their wounded cannot be evacuated from the battlefront because some higher-up is using the helicopter for a family excursion,” said another person in the same paper (Aug. 8).

But although, as a Manila Times writer said: (July 31), “People feel a sense of solidarity with the rebel soldiers because their lives are also adversely affected by corruption,” few excused their acts. “Some of the grievances the military mutineers have raised are legitimate, but the method they have chosen to dramatize their concerns is illegal, immoral, inept—and ultimately un-Filipino,” said the Philippine Daily Inquirer (July 28).

Writers disagreed about how the mutiny had affected President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s standing. A Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug. 1) columnist argued: “The crisis revealed the shaky foundations of the Philippine state.” But a Today editorial (July 30) maintained: “By her calm and commanding presence and her untroubled and consistent behavior...President Arroyo...established her personal credentials to the office.”

Many called for the mutineers to be brought to justice. The Philippine Daily Inquirer went even further, insisting (July 29), “If they are found culpable, the punishment should not be a mere 100 push-ups.”