11 officers acquitted of coup raps

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — ELEVEN of the 28 military officers linked to the alleged foiled coup d’etat in February 2006 were ordered released by a military tribunal on Thursday due to lack of evidence against them.

Acquitted of mutiny charges were Marine Col. Januario Caringal; Lt. Cols. Edmundo Malabanjot and Nestor Flordeliza; Maj. Francisco Domingo Fernandez; Capts. Ruben Guinolbay, Frederick Sales, and Allan Aurino; and 1Lts. Ervin Divinagracia, Jacon Cordero, Sandro Sereno, and Richiemel Caballes.

“The court unanimously found meritorious the motion of finding them not guilty,” the court said in its ruling.

The military tribunal was headed by Maj. Gen. Jogy Leo Fojas.

Officials said they had been detained for the past four years while awaiting a decision. They were accused of violating Article 67 of the Articles of War (Mutiny and Sedition).

The accused reportedly planned to march to EDSA Shrine on Feb. 24, 2006, join the ranks of the anti-government protesters, and subsequently withdraw support from President Arroyo.

The plan prompted President Arroyo to sign Proclamation No. 1017 that put the country under a state of emergency on February 24, 2006. This action invoked Section 18, Article 7 of the Constitution, which gives her the authority to use the police and armed forces to prevent anti-government activities or rebellion.

The proclamation was lifted on March 3, 2006 after a public outcry.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said the 11 military officers who were acquitted of mutiny charges might be released next week.

The court deferred the ruling on 17 other accused, including top-ranking officers former Scout Ranger chief Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, former Marine commandant Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda, and Medal of Valor awardees Col. Ariel Querubin and Lt. Col. Custodio Parcon.

Magdalo welcomes verdict

The Samahang Magdalo, a group of rebel officers led by Lim welcomed the acquittal of 11 officers who have languished for more than three years in several military camps for their involvement in the February 2006 foiled coup attempt.

“We laud the efforts of their defense lawyers, who stuck by these officers despite great odds. But most of all, we raise our hats to these fine officers and gentlemen, for their unflagging devotion to their principles, and wish them all the best as they continue their service to God and country,” Lim, who is languishing in jail for the same offense, said.

“For our brother officers and lone sister officer still facing the bar of justice, we urge you to stand fast and stay the course. We sincerely hope that the AFP acts with extreme urgency and utmost fairness in finally bringing the matter to just and humane conclusion,” Lim said.