MANILA, Nov 20: Thirty Philippine soldiers, including two top generals, will face mutiny charges before a military court for their role in an alleged plot to grab power in February, the armed forces' chief of staff said today.
General Hermogenes Esperon said he was sending a strong message that ''adventurism'' would no longer be tolerated within the military, which has been behind more than a dozen coup plots since the overthrow of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
But the mutiny charges and the arrest last week of a fugitive former colonel accused of masterminding the plan to overthrow President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo are unlikely to end a tradition of political interference by young and idealistic soldiers.
Traditionally, there has been little stigma in troops participating in coup plots and the government has shied away from harsh punishment for fear of stirring up further trouble within the underfunded armed forces.
Nearly all of the 300 officers on military trial for their role in a July 2003 plot against Arroyo have returned to duty after admitting their involvement ''We're very serious, that is why we're trying them by court-martial,'' Esperon told a news conference at the main army camp in Manila.
Eleven officers from the Marine Corps, including former commander Major-General Renato Miranda, and 19 from the Army's elite Ranger regiment led by Brigadier-General Danilo Lim faced mutiny and four more violations of the Articles of War.
Lim, a veteran of many coup plots, and the other 29 soldiers also face charges before a civilian court.
Esperon said eight members of two elite military units could return to duty after an inquiry showed there was insufficient evidence linking them to the alleged plan by rogue troops, communists and political foes to unseat Arroyo.
Many analysts suspected Arroyo, who has defeated two impeachment bids over allegations of vote-rigging and corruption, of ramping up the alleged conspiracy against her to allow security forces wider scope to crack down on her enemies.
The creation of the court-martial came a week after Gregorio ''Gringo'' Honasan, a two-term senator who was the alleged mastermind of the plot, was caught in a raid near the main army camp in Manila.
Honasan faced rebellion charges for the 2003 failed coup and was also being investigated for his role in the February plot.
Esperon said he was willing to testify in the court-martial against the plotters if necessary, confident in the strength of the evidence, which included a taped message by Lim withdrawing his support from Arroyo.