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Fact Finding Commission Suspends Hearing

August 15, 2003

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ A civilian commission investigating last month’s failed coup attempt suspended hearings Friday after military officers allegedly involved refused to testify, claiming they were being subjected to an inquisition.

In a letter to the commission, five officers and their lawyers protested the ``adversarial if not prosecutorial behavior″ of commission counsel Mario Ongkiko when he questioned two alleged ringleaders of the mutiny Wednesday.

``What is this, an inquisitorial body or a fact-finding body?″ lawyer Homobono Adaza told reporters.

In their letter, they also claimed Ongkiko and the commission prevented the officers from fully answering questions by stopping them midway in their testimonies, showing the ``mindset of the commission in favor of the administration″ of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

They also complained about the ``overprotective attitude″ of the commission toward Arroyo, citing the instance when commission members reprimanded navy Lt. Senior Grade Antonio Trillanes for calling Arroyo arrogant. They said the commission also prevented the officers from making ``political statements.″

``The hearing is in effect a fishing expedition for the administration since the testimony of the witnesses can be used against them in a court of law,″ they said.

Adaza said that in lieu of oral testimony, the officers would submit affidavits in five days.

Another lawyer for the officers, Roberto Guevarra, said they were given ``wider latitude for them to express themselves″ at a hearing Thursday at the Senate.

Commission chairman Florentino Feliciano, a retired Supreme Court judge, said he respected the officers’ decision not to testify but reminded them the commission’s goal was only to find the roots and provocations of the July 27 mutiny.

``We have nothing to do with the determination of guilt or innocence,″ he said.

More than 300 soldiers and officers occupied the ritzy Oakwood apartment and Glorietta shopping complex in Manila’s financial district and rigged the area with bombs.

They demanded that Arroyo, Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes and other officials resign. The mutineers have accused military officials of corruption and ordering soldiers to bomb Muslim mosques, and Arroyo of not doing anything to stop them.

On Friday, the government filed charges of graft and possession of unexplained wealth against Trillanes for allegedly acquiring eight vehicles beyond his lawful earnings. The government ombudsman will review evidence presented by the Interior Department.

Security officials said the mutiny was part of a larger conspiracy to topple the government and install a civilian-military junta.

Testifying before the commission Thursday, Cesar Garcia, director general of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, said some civilian and military backers of the failed coup ``are still out there″ and pose a threat.

The rebel officers denied they were plotting a coup. Trillanes told the commission Wednesday that they were forced to assemble at Oakwood because they were being ``hunted down by this government″ for airing grievances.

Coup charges have been filed against 321 officers and soldiers involved in the mutiny. Rebellion charges have been filed against Ramon Cardenas, a former Cabinet member under ousted President Joseph Estrada; Sen. Gregorio Honasan; and a mistress of Estrada, Laarni Enriquez.

Honasan and Enriquez have denied any role in the coup attempt.

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