1-2 DECEMBER 1999
The RAM Boys: Where are They Now?

by GLENDA GLORIA

TEN YEARS ago, on Nov. 29, 1989, rebel Army Capt. Jaime Junio, with a dozen men of the 14th Scout Ranger company, destroyed vital military communication relay lines in Tagaytay City. While he erred by moving 24 hours ahead of schedule, Junio's act sparked the bloodiest and longest coup attempt ever staged in the country.

But like many of the men who had joined the 1989 coup attempt, Junio has since been back in the army. Until recently, he worked as manager of the Army officers' club in Fort Bonifacio, Makati.

Ninety-one people were killed and 570 were wounded during the coup that began, officially, on the night of Nov. 30, 1989 and lasted until Dec. 7, 1989. Many of the casualties were civilians hit by stray bullets or who had their homes bombed by mistake.

As in their previous attempts, the rebel soldiers wanted then President Corazon Aquino to resign and give way to a transitional government composed of civilians and military officers. What their coup try achieved, however, aside from the loss of several lives, was to bring down the fledgling economy to its knees and further divide an already factionalized armed forces.

Despite these, most of the rebel soldiers do not seem to have suffered even serious career setbacks in the last 10 years. In fact, nearly all the principal plotters of the December 1989 coup are now with the Estrada administration, led by Sen. Gregorio Honasan and ex-Navy Capt. Felix Turingan, who is now board member of the government-run RPN-9 TV station.

Almost all of them are back in service, including four who have been promoted to general like Victor Batac, now deputy director for logistics of the Philippine National Police. Four others are working in the different line agencies of government, like former PC Lt. Col. Billy Bibit, newly appointed commissioner for the Caraga region of the Economic Intelligence and Investigation Bureau.

Batac led troops in seizing TV stations during the 1989 coup, while Turingan led the attack at Sangley Point in Cavite, then home to the military's T-28 planes.

A total of 153 military officers who had been jailed or charged for the 1989 coup have been reinstated, according to military records. This number excludes 55 military officers who remained in active service because they had not been formally charged in court.

Some 1,675 soldiers who had been previously charged have also returned to the military.

Following the peace agreement it signed in 1995 with the Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa (RAM), the Ramos government granted unconditional amnesty to 3,731 military officers and soldiers involved in the 1989 and 1987 coup attempts.

Political scientists like Alfred McCoy would interpret this as mere proof of the impunity long enjoyed by the military, which got away with its abuses under the Marcos regime. But Prof. Felipe Miranda of Pulse Asia Inc. said the phenomenon is not limited to the military rebel faction alone, citing the number of communist and Moro guerrillas who have been integrated into the political mainstream.

"What is remarkable, however, is that we have such a capacity ...for allowing people to make a move (against the state) and get away with it," Miranda said.

RAM leaders insisted that it was the government that offered them amnesty; they did not ask for it. RAM leader and ex-Navy Capt. Proceso Maligalig said RAM as a "social movement" welcomed the offer since the move presented more options that it could maximize to strengthen the organization.

Indeed, previous studies made on the December 1989 coup raised the specter of a political movement arising from the barracks, driven by nationalism and deep disenchantment with the elite.

The events of the last decade, however, show precisely that RAM remained an elite sector that could easily come to terms with the agenda of a government that is neither too bad nor too threatening of military interests as to deserve its soldiers' disobedience, according to Joel Rocamora, executive director of the think-tank Institute for Popular Democracy.

"Coups are a thing of the past," declared Army Col. Marcelino 'Jake' Majalacan, who planned the entire tactical operation of the 1989 coup. He said RAM leaders are busy building their lives and have no motivation for another adventure.

Malajacan himself is now senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado. The post calls for a star-rank officer, so Malacajan is expected to be promoted to general soon.

Malajacan is a member of the Class 1971 of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). A decade ago, mere mention of this class spelled trouble, because the seemingly incorrigible coup plotters belonged to it. Two weeks ago, PMA Class '71 met in Camp Crame not to plot another coup but to celebrate with the class' latest star, newly named national police chief Panfilo Lacson.

A total of 2,911 military officers and men joined the December 1989 coup that came close to toppling the Aquino government. Some 469 of these men belonged to the officer corps that was dominated by graduates of the PMA.

The total number of participants in the December 1989 coup exceeded the combined rebel manpower of all four coup attempts in 1987, a particularly turbulent year for the Aquino administration.

Besides Honasan, Turingan, Batac, Bibit and Malajacan, the other members of the core group that launched the December coup are now in the mainstream. Ex-Air Force Col. Reynaldo Samaco is now assistant secretary for logistics at the Department of Health (DOH), while former Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Erfe is the DOH's director for procurement. Samaco and Erfe had been key recruiters for RAM in the Air Force.

Three senior coup participants associated with Marcos loyalists have been promoted to general in the last ten years. They are Brig Gen. Jacinto Ligot, who is now deputy chief of staff for comptrollership of the Armed Forces (J-6); Brig Gen Arsenio Tecson, now commander of the 2nd Army division in Tanay, Rizal; and PNP Deputy Director Anselmo Avenido, now undersecretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government and a key ally of DILG chief Ronaldo Puno.

Meanwhile, the three Scout Ranger officers who led their troops in seizing Makati have since gone their separate ways.

Army Lt. Col. Rafael Galvez is head of the Quezon City Hall's licensing unit. His friends say he plans to run for a local post in 2001.

Army Col. Danilo Lim, the West Point graduate who impressed reporters with his tough talk during the Makati siege, is chief of staff of DILG Undersecretary Narciso 'Jun' Santiago. Lim figured prominently in Santiago's word war with Puno.

Lim's former bosom buddy, Army Maj. Abraham Purugganan, is now into computer business but is finishing his reinstatement papers in the Army. Lim and Purugganan were leaders of the Young Officers Union (YOU).

Another YOU founder, Senior Supt. Diosdado Valeroso, was until recently the comptroller of the PNP Special Action Force.

The other major players in the 1989 coup who have gone back to service include Tiburcio Fusilero, now police chief of Region 12 and Col. Ericson Aurelio, who is finishing his military schooling as he is being eyed for a brigade command in the Army.

Then Marines Maj. Cesar de la Pena, who led the attack on Camp Aguinaldo on the second day of the December mutiny, is now deputy chief of staff of the Philippine Marines.

Under former President Fidel Ramos, a retired general, rebel soldiers not only won amnesty for their destabilization moves but also the right to return to the service and get promoted without consideration of their past mutinous acts.

It was not hard to reinstate those who had been previously charged because they continued to keep their posts even while they were in jail or were busy plotting coups, said a senior defense official.

In its desire to put the rebels under military control, the Aquino government decided not to drop majority of the coup plotters from the rolls. Once a soldier remains with the military, he can be arrested and jailed indefinitely, even without charges.

"The Ramos government employed this strategy so it could charge as many rebels as possible. It was a good strategy in the short-term, but now that strategy is catching up with us," said the official.

As a result, the official cited the case of a captain who was detained for his participation in the December coup but who was not dropped from the rolls. The captain thus was entitled to back wages and after the peace agreement, the time he spent in jail was included in consideration of his promotion, the same defense official added.

The biggest bulk of those reinstated so far - a total of 105 officers and 1,443 men - come from the Army. But records show the military is on its way to approving the reinstatement of 70 more officers and men involved in the coup. And while some 20 mutineers had also been forced to retire from the service, they are nevertheless entitled to retirement pay.

After the peace agreement, RAM basked in the spoils of peace. Still, it has not been smooth sailing all the way.

The once-secretive and tight political bureau of RAM has disintegrated. Where Honasan held court in meetings, he now gets damning criticisms from his former comrades, who feel he has done little as senator to advance RAM's programs. Where the once-lionized YOU used radical slogans, it now remains just a name in history that makes noise every election period.

In 1995, RAM fielded Honasan for the senatorial race, a move the initially divided the rebel leaders.

Maligalig recalled that majority of the RAM executive members rejected proposals for Honasan to run. But by that time the coup leader had more than made up his mind. Because the rebel chain of command was still intact then, RAM members campaigned hard for him even if many of them did not approve of Honasan's decision.

The 1998 election, however, was vastly different. Honasan's PMA mistahs such as Turingan and Malajacan supported Estrada. The RAM as an organization threw its support behind Lakas standard-bearer Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. YOU leaders like Purugganan, Valeroso and former PC Capt. Washington Javier, backed the candidacy of former defense secretary Renato de Villa.

Aside from Honasan, several of the coup plotters have also tried politics, albeit aiming for local posts. They include former Air Force Lt. Col. Eduardo 'Red' Kapunan, another RAM core member and member of Class PMA 1971, who ran for a congressional post last year in Panay.

Former Army Lt. Col. Alexander Noble, who botched a coup attempt in 1990 in Mindanao, ran for congressman in Agusan. Bibit also ran for a congressional seat in Makati. All three lost in their respective bids.

The December mutineers who have been successful in local politics are former PC Lt. Col. Rodolfo Aguinaldo, who is now congressman of Cagayan, and former PC Capt. Leovic Deoneda, who is now on his third term as mayor of Bacon, Sorsogon.

The rest are in private business, like retired Brig. Gen. Marcelo Blando who runs a successful mango export business in Pangasinan. Former Marines Col. Romelino Gojo, who led the siege of Villamor Air Base and is a cousin of Honasan, worked for a time as chief security officer of the Shangri-La Hotel Manila, although he has now transferred to Tagaytay Highlands.

RAM itself has made a stab at several businesses, said Maligalig, but it has suffered huge losses in the process. Maligalig said he had to quit as vice president of PSBank so that he could manage the finances of RAM full-time.

Under the Ramos administration, RAM was able to negotiate for a lump sum release of the amnesty funds that its individual members were entitled to. RAM was able to get the total first package of P7. 3 million. The second package totaled P35.9 million, but RAM has so far only received P25.9 million of the amount.

Maligalig said the decision to get lump sum funds was made by the executive committee of RAM. Naturally, some of the rebel soldiers opposed the idea so they were allowed to get their individual allotments from RAM, he added.

Part of the amnesty funds had gone to the RAM Foundation, which the organization had set up in 1993 to help the families of the mutineers. It was able to send 200 children of rebel soldiers to school following an initial P100,000-donation by Honasan. Last year, however, the scholarship program ceased operations due to lack of funds. These days, the Foundation is run by a skeletal force.

In 1998, RAM also attempted to put up its own weekly newspaper, hoping to popularize its political programs and earn in the process. Rampart closed shop after 27 weeks of publication. Said Maligalig: "Nadapa din ang Foundation eventually (The Foundation floundered eventually). We were unable to sustain our operations."

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