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No pitch for mutiny raps vs ‘coup plotters’--military chief

March 01, 2007 15:33:00
Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE) Military prosecutors did not recommend the filing of mutiny charges against Army Scout Ranger and Marine officers implicated in the failed February 2006 coup d'etat, Armed Forces Chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. admitted for the first time on Thursday.

But Esperon, who had ordered the filing of mutiny charges against the alleged coup plotters despite the Staff Judge Advocate's recommendation, maintained that he had the "prerogative" and "sole authority" to do so.

The recommendation had been based on the pre-trial investigation (PTI) report by the Judge Advocate General's Office (JAGO).

Asked whether his action did not constitute an abuse of authority, Esperon replied in jest: "No, not at all. Ang dami ko pang gagawin sa kanila, but timplado [I could have done more to them, but I held back]."

He said the PTI panel had recommended that the group be charged only with violation of Articles of War 96 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman) and 97 (conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline), considered minor offenses compared to mutiny that was punishable by death in times of war.

Esperon issued the statement as copies of the PTI report were released to counsels for the 19 Scout Rangers and nine marines facing court martial over the botched uprising.

"Based on initial reading, [the PTI report] is no different from the one on the Internet," said Trixie Angeles, lawyer for accused Army Captain Ruben Guinolbay.

Angeles was referring to a leaked copy of the PTI report, which contained a recommendation to file charges against 18 officers for violation of Articles of War 96 and 97.

Guinolbay's counsel said she would ask for a copy of the pre-trial advice from Esperon's Staff Judge Advocate, which had overruled the PTI report.

"He can't just say, I can do this, I can overrule it, I have the power to do so. Having the power to do so doesn't mean having the right to do so over reasonable evidence presented before him," Angeles said.

But Esperon countered: "The PTI report recommended for charges to be filed, Articles of War 96, Article of War 97 on most of them. The pre-trial advice had another set of recommendations, which included mutiny. Based on that, I made my decision."

"That's the prerogative of the chief of staff. That's the duty of the chief of staff. Now they [accused] want to question that? Okay so let's go to court," he added.

The PTI panel, headed by Colonel Al Perreras, investigated 38 officers.

According to a leaked copy of the report, which was submitted to Esperon in October, Perreras recommended the filing of charges against 18 officers for violation of Articles of War 96 and 97.

But Esperon ordered the filing of mutiny charges over alleged violations of Articles of War 96, 97, 63 (disrespect towards the president), and 65 (willful disobedience of superior officer).

At the hearing last December 14, Esperon absolved two of the accused Marines, bringing down the number of officers standing trial for mutiny to 19 Scout Rangers and nine Marines.

Originally posted at 01:31 pm

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