Mutiny Philippines: The December Coup

Mutiny is a situation in which a group of people (such as sailors or soldiers) refuse to obey orders and try to take control away from the person who commands them (See Merriam-Webster definition of mutiny). Related words include insurgency, insurrection, rebellion, coup and coup d'état. In the Philippines, there is no shortage of mutinies and coups that may be tackled. This series is dedicated to that matter.


Rebels controlling an Infantry Fighting Vehicle
Photo courtesy of
   One week from today would be the 25th anniversary of the most serious, deadly, and destructive coup during the administration of Corazon Aquino, the December 1989 coup. This was when forces of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and Soldiers of the Filipino People (SFP) were led by Colonel Gregorio Honasan occupied key points in and around Metro Manila, as well as Cebu City, Sorsogon, Legazpi City (Albay), Davao City, and Cagayan de Oro from December 1 to 10. More popular accounts say it only lasted until December 7, but that discards remaining resistance in the provinces. Comendador and Fusilero surrendered only by December 10. It might even be fair to say that it was the most serious, and the longest, coup in the Philippines during the 20th century. It was also the only coup in our recent history that was done in a December. How can it be said that it was the most serious? If not, then how serious was it? Also, why conduct it in December? Is there some sort of numerology for that matter?

There were 534 officers involved in the coup attempt. Of course, out of the more than 14,000 officers of the Armed Forces at the time, it would be fairly small (3.8%). However, let it be remembered that what has been counted were only officers. How many were the soldiers? Perhaps the number of mutineers would exceed 1,000 or 2,000. One account even claims that there were more than 3,000 soldiers involved in the mutiny. The mutineers would even include Bridagier General Danilo Lim, who would later mutiny with Antonio Trillanes IV and his Magdalo group in 2003 and 2007. This is where the coup's seriousness lies. The Oakwood Mutiny in 2003 only had a little more than 300 soldiers to spare, and it took only a force about the same size to put them down. The Cavite Mutiny in 1872 was conducted by some 200 soldiers. Another thing of note is the reach of the mutineers. There were incidents in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. It can be said that such coordination among rebels in such a wide range can be potent indeed. In the December 1989 coup, there were 283 casualties on the side of the Armed Forces (299 in the Red Cross count), and 96 on the side of the rebels.

Though more unpopular than the 1987 coup (Honasan's first coup), the fledgling Aquino administration still relied heavily on the Armed Forces to retain power, just as Marcos did in his almost 21 years as President. It is also noticeable that there were efforts from the rebels themselves to forward key issues like graft and corruption (69% of the rebels saying this was a reason for their joining the coup), neglect of basic needs of the people (66%), as well as weak or indecisive government (57%). And even if without popular support, at least in Metro Manila (66% disagreed that the reasons of the rebels justified the coup), the rebels and their leaders seemed to have been accepting a sort of victory. Their media coverage almost portrayed them as parading heroes who may have lost a battle but had not lost the war.

Government Armored Infantry Fighting Vehicle
traversing EDSA
Photo courtesy of opus224 (
Why December? Unlike most coups that rocked the Aquino administration, and for that matter, that rocked the succeeding administrations, Honasan and his men launched the coup in December (the closest would be the Manila Peninsula siege, conducted on November 29). Is it really a trademark strategy of him, or is it for logical reasons? It must be remembered that Honasan and the rest of the RAM planned a coup against President Marcos in December 1985. What postponed these plans was the announcement of Snap Elections on February 7, 1986, and the suspected leakage of the plans to the government. If one is to take account of the recently published Enrile memoir, there were even plans for a coup as early as December 1982 or January 1983. Mentioning that, has there been a coup or mutiny in our recent history that has not leaked?

Is the December strategy to be attributed only partly to Honasan? If so, was Enrile the mind behind such strategy? Besides, Honasan was Enrile's aide. It must be noted that Honasan conducted an earlier coup on August 28 1987, just before President Aquino was scheduled to go to Japan (in September). Is December chosen because of the expected lax among the military and the civilians caused by the mood for the coming festivities? This would be sensible in a sense that the Philippines was said to be celebrating the longest Christmas in the world. Filipinos begin counting 100 days before Christmas. It is also to be expected that the government would be out of funding by year's end. This, in turn, would make sense if one thinks of the coup to be stretching the government resources to achieve its aim. The Armed Forces actually sustained 469 million pesos in damage. Total losses would amount to around 1 billion pesos. It was as if a strong typhoon ravaged the Philippines once more.

In whatever case, the fact that it lasted long enough, and wrought much damage, shows the military brilliance that might be worth commemorating on its 25th anniversary on December 1, 2014. Not all coups or mutinies last that long, and wreak such havoc. On the other hand, a coup was supposed to be swift to affect change in government. Else, it would be a battle of attrition. Since the mutineers were usually the ones with the lesser resources, they would ultimately fail.

Perhaps Sun Tzu's advice in his Art of War would fit best to be a lesson for the coups or mutinies of today: "True excellence is to plan secretly, to move surreptitiously, to foil the enemy's intentions and balk his schemes, so that at last the day may be won without shedding a drop of blood."


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Mutiny Philippines: The December Coup Mutiny Philippines: The December Coup Reviewed by Al Raposas on Monday, November 24, 2014 Rating: 5

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