MANILA, Philippines -- After meeting briefly with Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano Tuesday morning, 11 core leaders of the Magdalo group of rebellious military officers changed their not guilty pleas to guilty at their court-martial.
?They wanted to deliver the message (to Yano) that they were willing to cooperate with the Armed Forces of the Philippines,? said Edgardo Abaya, the officers? lawyer.
?I think the officers? move was welcome to him (Yano),? Abaya added.
Abaya told reporters that changing their plea had always been a ?legal option? for the rebel officers.
?They can still continue with what they believe in even as civilians and cooperate with the AFP as civilians. They love the AFP, one way or another,? the lawyer said.
The officers who changed their pleas were Lieutenants Senior Grade James Layug, Eugene Louie Gonzales, Andy Torrato and Manuel Cabochan, Lieutenant Junior Grade Arturo Pascua and Ensign Arman Pontejos from the Philippine Navy; Capt. Gary Alejano and 2nd Lt. Jonnel Sangalang from the Marines, and Capt. Segundino Orfiano Jr. and First Lieutenants Billy Pascua and Francisco Ashley Acedillo from the Air Force.
The 11 were undergoing court-martial for violation of Article of War 96, or Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman, for their roles in the Oakwood mutiny of 2003. The maximum sentence under Article 96 is a dishonorable discharge from the AFP.
Separate criminal trial
The 11 are undergoing a separate criminal trial on coup d?etat charges in a Makati City Regional Trial Court, Abaya said.
The group, except for Acedillo, also took part in the takeover of Peninsula Manila hotel on Nov. 29, 2007, that was led by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, himself a former Magdalo leader, and Army Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim.
Like the Oakwood mutiny, the Peninsula incident was intended to highlight the Magdalo group?s call for an end to corruption in government and the resignation of ranking officials, including President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
According to AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres, four of the 11 rebel officers -- Layug, Gonzales, Alejano and Orfiano -- asked to meet with Yano during a break in the court-martial proceedings.
The meeting in Yano?s office at Camp Aguinaldo -- where the trial was being held -- lasted about 10 minutes, according to Abaya and lead military prosecutor Col. Pedro Herrera-Davila, who were present.
Torres said no concessions or deals were made by either side.
Yano only promised the junior officers they would receive a fair trial, Torres said.
The rebel officers in turn, Torres said, vowed to support the AFP and help it in any way they could to overcome its many problems.
Last month, nine colleagues of the 11 core Magdalo officers changed their not guilty pleas to guilty not only at their court-martial but in their coup d?etat case.
They were Army Captains Gerardo Gambala, Milo Maestrecampo, Alvin Ebreo, Laurence Louis Somera, Albert Baloloy and John Andres, First Lieutenants Florentino Somera and Cleo Dongga-as and 2nd Lt. Kristoffer Bryan Yasay.
?Mercy and grace?
They received a pardon from President Arroyo after they were sentenced to from 12 to 40 years in prison and had sought her ?mercy and grace.?
This leaves Trillanes, the acknowledged leader and spokesperson of the Magdalo group, and other core leaders like Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon and four others to face the military and civilian trials.
The four are Army 1Lt. Warren Lee Dagupon and Marine Second Lieutenants Alquin Canson, Junnibert Tubo and Edwin Duetao.
Canson, Tubo and Duetao were the only Magdalo sub-leaders not to enter into a plea bargain with the government last year.
Faeldon remains at large after he escaped from the Peninsula as the military and police were storming the hotel.
Trillanes, who ran for a Senate seat while in detention, was automatically discharged from the military service when he won election.
Earlier, 53 other Magdalo leaders who were charged with the same offenses entered into a plea bargain with the government and were sentenced to time served in detention.
They were released in December last year after being pardoned by President Arroyo.
Tuesday?s court-martial hearing for the 11 officers did not start until 1:30 p.m.
The prosecution was ready to present Army Capt. Frederick Windell Rebong as a witness when Abaya told the court his clients wanted to change their pleas to guilty.
This prompted the seven-member military tribunal led by its president, Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Legaspi, to reiterate to the accused that they faced the ?maximum punishment of dishonorable discharge from the military service? if they pled guilty to the charge.
One by one, the 11 accused stood before the court and said they were changing their plea to guilty.