THOUSANDS of civilians, including former President Corazon C. Aquino (who is on her way as this is being written), opposition politicians, activists, and priests and nuns, are gathering outside the Marine headquarters at Fort Bonifacio, singing songs and praying the rosary in support of mutinous Marines, even as the military ordered the deployment of anti-riot troops and sealed off the camp to prevent even more civilians from swelling the ranks of supporters.
But this is not quite a reprise of 1986, as the archbishop of Manila, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales , has kept his hands off the affair, sending a text message to the cable station ANC that stated, “The Archbishop has no instruction to any group to gather whatsoever…I hope people will not be deceived.”
Mrs. Aquino herself, talking to reporters, did not encourage civilians to go to the camp, saying she was leaving this to their “best judgment.” And among those who came to show their support were the likes of Imee Marcos, whose own father was ousted by people power 20 years ago this month. Senator Panfilo Lacson, a military intelligence officer during the Marcos era, is there too.
So far the crowd that has gathered at Fort Bonifacio represents the full spectrum of groups opposed to President Arroyo — from the leftist party groups and movements to the Estrada supporters, the remnants of the Hyatt 10 group of former Arroyo Cabinet secretaries, opposition members of Congress and middle-class groups like the Black and White Movement.
But thus far, the mutiny appears to be contained within a few hundred men in the Marines. There has been no open call to withdraw support from the Arroyo government and the military insists the chain of command is still intact.
Malacañang, however, appeared to have been caught flat-footed by the developments, with various presidential spokesmen making statements that few appeared to take seriously. Ric Saludo, the secretary of the Cabinet, said that Col. Ariel Querubin, the Marine battalion commander who admitted planning to take part in Friday’s protests, was under arrest. But Querubin was right at that moment issuing defiant statements from the Marine headquarters in Fort Bonifacio.
Mike Defensor, the president’s chief of staff, warned the media not to cover the events at the Marine camp, but was roundly ignored as Manila’s irrepressible journalists were reporting events live on television and radio.
And defiant citizens trooped to Fort Bonifacio, despite appeals from military and civilian authorities. Still Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita is right. The tension is limited to “a two-square-kilometer area” in a sprawling military camp. That area though is only a spit away from the financial district and the poshest gated communities of Metro Manila.
As this is being written, four hours after the start of the Marine mutiny, frantic negotiations are taking place at the Marine headquarters. In a press conference, the chief of staff, Gen. Generosa Senga, said that “the Marine corps is a very professional organization and I am sure they can resolve this very peacefully among themselves.”
It is possible that Senga is right. After all, similar standoffs, like the one that took place at the Oakwood Hotel in Makati in 2003, ended with military factions negotiating with, rather than shooting, each other. After hours of negotiations, a face-saving solution to the impasse was reached.
“We are trying to solve the situation in a peacefeul and just manner,” said Senga. “But the situation is being exploited by other groups.”
The military is obviously hoping that it can resolve the impasse using its time-honored way of appealing to classmates and using credible negotiators. But having thousands of civilians — many of them motivated by a desire to force President Arroyo out of power — vastly complicates the equation for armed forces.