MANILA, Philippines - A veteran of several coup attempts during the first Aquino administration on Monday urged President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III not to interfere in the coup d'etat case against detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.
Instead, Sen. Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan said he will file a bill in the Senate that will grant amnesty to junior officers who participated in the failed 2003 Oakwood Mutiny as well as the takeover of the Manila Peninsula Hotel in 2007.
Honasan said Aquino should not meddle in the Trillanes case since it would be perceived as interfering in a matter best left for the judiciary to decide.
"The courts will have to decide based on the merits of the case without any unnecessary interference from the other branches of government," he said in an interview with Karen Davila on ANC's Headstart on Monday.
The senator, who initiated a military uprising against former President Ferdinand Marcos that culminated in the 1986 EDSA Revolution, believes there was injustice in the case against Trillanes.
He said the basic elements of a coup d'etat were not present in the Oakwood Mutiny since there was no violence or attack nor a takeover of a vital government installation.
Trillanes, along with 300 junior officers and soldiers, took over the Oakwood Premier Ayala Center (now Ascott Makati) on July 27, 2003 and demanded that President Arroyo and other government leaders step down from office due to corruption. The group later surrendered to authorities less than 24 hours after taking over the 5-star hotel.
Trillanes has been in jail since 2003 but was still able to win a seat in the Senate during the 2007 election. He has not been allowed to participate in any of the Senate sessions because of security risks.
Honasan said the Oakwood Mutiny was "not a coup" based on his own experience as leader of at least 3 uprisings since 1986.
The senator said even he became a victim of injustice after he was asked to talk to members of the so-called Magdalo group of officers that took over the Oakwood Premier Ayala Center.
He said he, Sen. Vicente Sotto and Sen. Rodolfo Biazon talked to the Magdalo leaders after 5 Cabinet secretaries asked them to defuse the situation.
He said that after the failed uprising, he was included in the list of persons to be arrested.
"Reliable sources said when the security cluster listed down the people to to be arrested, I was not even number1 on the list. So they started running down the list and I was number 4 or 5. When they came to my name, there was a 2-minute pause. 'What about Sen. Honasan?' someone asked. Some bright person said: 'Isama mo na para credible tayo,'" he said.
Honasan was arrested in 2006 but a Makati court later threw out the coup charge against him.
The tragedy of the Oakwood Mutiny
Honasan said he will file an amnesty bill for Trillanes and detained Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon since it would be good for the new administration.
"Given the opportunity, I will propose that an amnesty bill be filed in the same manner that I sponsored an amnesty bill during the time of President Ramos as chairman of committee on peace and reunification. This is a political act not a judicial act. We are not interfering in the courts but we can interfere in the Senate by proposing an amnesty bill. I will ask the new majority to do that. I will sponsor it," he said.
He said granting amnesty to the mutinous officers would show that the Aquino administration is serious in achieving unity among all sectors of society.
Honasan said Trillanes has never gotten in touch with his office. "He has never gotten in touch with me, maybe for his own peace of mind and security and mine. We cannot inflict each other on ourselves," he said.
He admitted that there is no guarantee that granting amnesty to the soldiers will prevent a future group of soldiers from airing their grievances.
"If the fundamental issues are not addressed, it would not be my problem if some young group calling itself a different name will rise to express their grievances in the most imaginative way possible. That is beyond our control so I hope there would be good government," he said.
He said the tragedy of the Oakwood uprising is that none of the Magdalo group's grievances has been addressed. Among these are massive corruption in the government, disparity in salaries of military and police personnel and patronage leadership in the Armed Forces hierarchy.
"After Oakwood, Trillanes’ grievances have not been addressed. Only the dates and personalities have changed. That is the tragedy of the whole thing. In fact, you cannot limit it to Senator Trillanes. There is severe institutional damage. There is corruption and inefficiency and lack of productivity," he said.
Race for Senate president
Honasan said one accusation being leveled against President Aquino for allegedly meddling in the Trillanes case is that the detained senator would vote for Sen. Francis Pangilinan for Senate President.
Pangilinan and Sen. Manny Villar are currently in an impasse on who would get the 13 votes needed to become Senate President.
"It leaves a bad taste in the mouth if [fugitive Sen. Panfilo] Lacson or Trillanes is allowed to surface just to vote on July 26. That’s a travesty, an insult to our system. They should be allowed to surface and that is a determination that the courts must make. I am strongly against allowing them to surface just to vote. They should be allowed to surface permanently on the merits of their respective cases," he said.
He said he and Sen. Tito Sotto have formed a 2-man bloc that will support an independent Senate president who will not be confrontational or obstructionist but engages the executive branch in critical collaboration. He said that during the term of President Fidel Ramos, the Chief Executive activated the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) that met constantly to craft new laws.
"[Ramos] met with senators every week individually and we passed almost 300 laws. We need to be engaged by the executive branch, by President Aquino so we can coordinate in the legislative agenda," he said.
Regrets about Aquino admin coups
Honasan admitted that he has certain regrets after leading several failed coup attempts during the presidency of Cory Aquino, mother of the incumbent President.
"Let me define it in broad strokes because I cannot be specific, I regret certain judgment calls. Being impulsive. Even if you want to change the world or reform Philippine society, you must do it on the basis of accurate, timely information. Yun lang. Cumulatively, you cannot forecast for inconsistencies. What we were before and what we are now is what we wanted for this country," he said.
He added: "The coups during Cory’s time are not fruitless. I would have no regrets except for the fact that there was unintentional violence that resulted from that. The loss of even one life is a tragedy for our people."
Honasan said he did not apologize to former President Cory Aquino but congratulated her when Noynoy became senator in 2007.
The former coup leader said he has accomplished a lot after being elected senator, including the passage of the revised Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and pushing for higher pay for soldiers.
He also had the following advice for the new President:
"Be a good president, give us good government, unite the Filipino people and fulfill your promises. Every new administration deserves to be supported because of the potential opportunities. Let's not waste it this time," he said.
He added: "To our president -- be the president of all Filipinos. Work hard and pray hard and measure everything you do by the parameters of God, country and family."