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Philippine military frees 181 mutineers.

MANILA, May 20 Kyodo

The Philippine military on Friday freed 181 low-ranking soldiers who had pleaded guilty in connection with a short-lived, failed mutiny in July 2003.

But 96 officers who also participated in the mutiny, including its leaders, remain in custody.

Lt. Col. Buenaventura Pascual, spokesman for the Philippine armed forces, said the low-ranking rebels have already served their military tribunal sentence of one year of confinement with hard labor.

They are scheduled to retake their oath of allegiance and undergo two weeks of ''reorientation'' training before again being deployed to the field.

More than 300 heavily armed soldiers, mostly from elite units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, abandoned their posts on July 27, 2003, and seized control of a shopping center in the financial district of Makati, demanding that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her then defense secretary, Angelo Reyes, step down.

The soldiers, led by six junior officers, raised general grievances about working conditions and low pay, and accused the Arroyo government of corruption and falsely staging a terrorist attack in the southern Philippines to obtain U.S. aid.

They surrendered without a shot being fired after negotiations ended a 22-hour standoff.

Last week, the lower-ranking soldiers entered into a plea bargain with military prosecutors, pleading guilty to three violations of the Articles of War in exchange for dropping the mutiny charges against them.

The tribunal then sentenced them to one year of imprisonment with hard labor, demotion by three ranks as well as forfeiture of two-thirds of their salaries from three to six months.

But the tribunal reconsidered the prison terms, taking into consideration the fact that the soldiers, whose ranks range from private to master sergeant, had already been detained for 22 months.

A similar arrangement is being worked out for the 67 junior officers who are also facing trial for violation of the Articles of War.

That group excludes 29 so-called hard-core officers headed by Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes. In addition to courts-martial, Trillanes' group is also facing coup d'etat charges before the Makati City Regional Trial Court.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:May 23, 2005
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