Philippine Rebels Claim Military Collusion With Terrorists

Philippine Rebels Claim Military Collusion With Terrorists

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - A weekend rebellion by young Philippines military officers has ended peacefully, but the mutineers' accusations of government corruption and collaboration with terrorists look likely to command considerable attention in the days ahead.

President Gloria Arroyo's government said the almost 300 rebels would face court martial after they besieged a retail and accommodation complex in the capital for almost 19 hours.

The rebels insisted they were not mounting a coup, did they did demand that Arroyo step down.

In statements and at a press conference, the rebels alleged that senior Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) officials were colluding with, and arming, Muslim and communist terrorist groups fighting long and bloody insurgencies in the country.

Going even further, they claimed the government was behind two deadly bomb blasts in the southern Mindanao region last March and April, which the rebels said had been staged to justify asking the U.S. for more military aid.

The rebels were not reported to have made any statements opposing U.S. counter-terrorism support for Manila - an issue that has exposed sharp political differences in the country.

In fact, at least three of the officers involved were named as having taken part in last year's joint U.S.-Philippine training exercise, aimed at wiping out the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

Further such joint counter-terror maneuvers are being planned.

The ASG and a larger separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Movement (MILF) have been holding out against government forces in the south for years, and accusations that crooked military officers have helped perpetuate the conflict have frequently been aired.

In a recently-published book, American missionary Gracia Burnham, held hostage by the ASG before being rescued by AFP forces in mid-2002, recounted a number of curious incidents during the year-long ordeal.

The occurrences suggested that elements in the military were arming and feeding the terrorists; that the AFP would at times simply allow the bandits to slip away unhindered; and that attempts were made by senior officers to divert part of the ransoms being offered for the release of the hostage group.

So serious were the allegations in Burnham's book that Manila sent senior justice officials to interview her in Kansas as part of an ongoing corruption investigation.

One of the episodes she described was a bloody siege at a hospital just days after the hostage saga began.

Although the gang was surrounded, they were allowed to leave with their hostages - and even take fresh ones. An ordeal that could have been over then dragged on for more than 300 more days for Burnham and her husband, Martin, who was killed on the day she was rescued.

The rebel soldiers involved in the weekend mutiny in Manila referred to the hospital siege, alleging that the ASG bandits were allowed to leave after paying off military officers.

Manila political analyst Alex Magno, said Monday he did not believe there was truth to allegations of systematic collusion with terrorists at a high level in the AFP.

Magno, who has close ties to the Arroyo government, said there were definitely instances where weapons had "moved to the other side."

Most commonly, he said, individual frontline soldiers may "sell a few bullets in order to buy a few beers [but] it's not a business generals get into."

The Philippine Star Monday quoted several senior senators as saying that, while they disapproved of the rebels' action, they would call for an inquiry into the corruption claims.

Writing in the Manila Bulletin Monday, commentator Willie Ng said that although the rebellion had failed, it had not been in vain.

By focusing public attention on corruption in the military and civilian establishment, he said, they had "sacrificed their military careers for what they believed was right."

See also:
One Year on, Book Recounts Missionary Ordeal in Philippines (June 9, 2003)

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.