Philippine military officers plead guilty

At least 54 junior military officers pleaded guilty to violating the order and discipline in a plea bargain. They are trying to avoid the long-lasting imprisonment for a failed mutiny in the Philippine capital nearly four years ago.

The officers were among more than 300 soldiers from elite special forces units who occupied the ritzy Oakwood Hotel and a nearby shopping mall in the capital's Makati financial district and rigged the area with bombs on July 27, 2003.

A military tribunal sentenced them to seven years and six months in jail, followed by dishonorable discharges. It dropped charges of mutiny, which carries a 40-year jail term, disrespect for the president and superior officers, and conduct unbecoming of an officer.

A court official announced that the officers will be freed Jan. 27, 2008, after the tribunal included time served and shaved off an additional three years due to several mitigating circumstances, including the officers' peaceful surrender and their guilty plea.

The officers showed no emotion as the sentence was read.

The government said the mutiny was part of a larger coup conspiracy, but the young officers who led the action said they were only protesting alleged corruption and demanding the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and other officials. They gave up without a shot being fired after a 19-hour standoff.

Another 30 officers - the alleged ring leaders, mostly with the rank of captain - are facing charges of conduct unbecoming of an officer in a court martial, and a separate case of attempted coup d'etat in a civilian court.

A fact-finding commission concluded the mutiny was not a spontaneous protest, but part of a larger plot to seize power from Arroyo and appoint a 15-member junta.

It said the coup attempt was rooted in corruption and politicization of the Philippine military that had occurred since the early 1970s under late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

It was one of the most serious challenges faced by Arroyo since she took power in a 2001 "people power" uprising that ousted her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, on charges of corruption.

Her allies in the House of Representatives have blocked two efforts by the opposition to impeach her on allegations she rigged the 2004 election.

In February 2006, she foiled an alleged coup plot purportedly involving communist rebels, disgruntled officers and private financiers. At least two generals, several other senior officers and a former senator have been arrested and detained in the case.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova