Magdalo junior officer pleads guilty on mutiny case

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — A member of the Magdalo Group pleaded guilty yesterday in conspiring to topple the government in July 2003 even as an accused senior plotter failed to convince the court to grant him bail.

1Lt. Lawrence San Juan entered his plea to a lesser charge before Judge Oscar Pimentel of the Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 148.

The court said it needed more time to decide on a bargain over the case of a mutiny staged by young military officers at the Oakwood Premier Hotel in Makati City.

“San Juan wants to plea a lesser offense of conspiracy. We intend to file a motion to change San Juan’s plea from not guilty on coup d’etat to guilty to a lesser offense of conspiracy,” said his lawyer Paulo Primavera.

Meanwhile, Pimentel junked the petition of former Senator Gregorio Honasan to post bail to pursue his campaign for the May mid-term elections.

In a four-page order, Honasan was prevailed upon to await the result of the 60-day re-investigation of his coup d’etat case by the justice department.

The former Army colonel, who figured in the Edsa People Power uprising that ousted President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, has been implicated in the July 27 Magdalo putsch being tried by Pimentel.

Shortly after the hearing yesterday morning, San Juan had a brief verbal tussle with Lt./SG Antonio Trillanes III.

“Think of the others for whatever you will say. You must consider that there will be others who will be affected by whatever you will say,” he told San Juan.

“I have thought about this.”

Infuriated, Trillanes bawled: “You’re not thinking of us!”

“Don’t be rude. Is that the way a would-be senator acts?” San Juan shot back in time for the military escorts to hold them back.

Trillanes is running for senator under the Genuine Opposition. Interviewed later by reporters, he said San Juan would change his stand again.

“He [San Juan] has the right to do whatever he wants.”

Trillanes’ lawyer Reynaldo Robles suspected certain machinations in the plea bargain.

“There is something to that. We are speculating that there is an attempt to actually circumvent the process. There is an attempt to insert his [San Juan’s] testimony against our client. While we maintain that there is no evidence against our clients, that [San Juan’s testimony] would be part of the record. This is just one case. There will be only one ruling. It might influence the outcome of the case,” he said.

Robles indicated they would file a motion opposing San Juan’s decision to change his plea.

But Lawyer Theodore Te said he and his client, Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon, were not about to jump the gun.

“It has to be approved by the prosecution. Definitely, yes [it will affect the other accused], but not directly. I want to comment on that. But there is no paper yet. There might be no direct bearing, but it has an effect because you cannot have conspired by yourself,” Te said.

Pimentel allowed the justice department to take a second look at Honasan’s case after he claimed that he was denied due process.

“It will be more advantageous to the accused if the 60-day period is strictly observed and enforced. After the lapse… if the case will proceed, then it is the proper time time to raise or file the petition for bail but at this point, the court cannot give due course to the motion,” ordered Pimentel.

Honasan’s lawyer Daniel Gutierrez frowned at the ruling.

“We believe that a person’s constitutional right to bail takes precedence and is superior to technical rules of procedure which apparently is the main basis for the RTC resolution,” he said, adding that the defense was weighing all the options.

Gutierrez said Honasan’s bid for a Senate seat was intact.

“He has his family, friends and supporters from various groups campaigning for him.”