Capture of rebel leader eases security concerns in the Philippines

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Yesterday's capture of rebel military officer Gregorio Honasan ends the most serious threat from the right to Corazon Aquino's presidency. Colonel Honasan, a popular and charismatic leader fondly called ``Gringo'' by enlisted men and officers alike, had been the object of a military manhunt that many thought was half-hearted. Honasan was apprehended by a team of soldiers and policemen 103 days after he led a bloody coup-attempt. Honasan was in the process of conducting an interview with a foreign journalist at the time of his arrest.

Around 10 of Honasan's fellow rebel officers gave themselves up before the Nov. 30 deadline set by the Armed Forces for surrender before military discharge.

While 11 officers and some 90 enlisted men remain at large, Armed Forces chief Fidel Ramos said the rebel leadership has been ``effectively neutralized'' with Honasan's capture.

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General Ramos said that Honasan, who at press time was undergoing interrogation, has agreed to help convince his fellow mutineers to voluntarily return to the fold of the law. Ramos guaranteed rebels ``honorable treatment and due process.''

The Honasan mutiny sparked the worst crisis faced by President Aquino, who was installed as President in February 1986 after a group of officers, led by Honasan, former Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, and Ramos, and supported by millions of unarmed civilians ended the 20-year rule of Ferdinand Marcos.

In various interviews, Honasan decried the ``weak leadership'' of President Aquino, and what he called graft and corruption in her government, the presence of suspected leftists in high places, and Mrs. Aquino's softness on the insurgency. He demanded wage increases for soldiers, the professionalization of the military, and the removal of Gen. Ramos, whom he alleged was corrupt and weak, as chief of staff.

While the government charged that Honasan was driven, not by noble motives, but by ambition, Aquino went to work establishing reforms. She replaced her controversial executive secretary, Joker Arroyo, who, during the Marcos years, defended leftist political prisoners before military courts. She also urged congress to immediately increase the pay of soldiers, gave the military a free hand in going after communist rebels, and endorsed the organization of anticommunist civilian vigilantes.

The pay increase, which took effect this month, left Honasan with no pressing issues to rally soldiers with against the government.

Aquino, whose government has been under pressure to tighten up the security for the summit meeting of six heads of state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Manila next week, said that Honasan's capture just five days before the ASEAN summit, means the country is ``headed for much better times.''

Preparations for the summit have been plagued with security problems such as bombings of public buildings and reports of international terrorist groups entering the country.

Although Honasan pledged in a statement earlier this week not to do anything to disrupt the summit, the government still considered him as one of the threats to the security of the foreign leaders.

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