Little-known fact: AFP chief Galvez got amnesty for 1989 failed coup

Carmela Fonbuena

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Little-known fact: AFP chief Galvez got amnesty for 1989 failed coup
The young Lieutenant Carlito Galvez Jr spent years in detention for joining the bloody 1989 coup attempt. He was granted amnesty by former President Fidel Ramos in 1996.


MANILA, Philippines – Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Carlito Galvez Jr was a rebel in his younger years – a little-known fact that came to light after the government voided the amnesty granted to his fellow ex-rebel, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.  

It’s not lost on the military, too, that Galvez is away – as he joined President Rodrigo Duterte in a historic visit to Israel. His deputies are now left to handle the Trillanes crisis sparked by Duterte’s order to arrest Trillanes, put him back under armed forces jurisdiction, and try him in a military court.

Galvez has so far not issued any statement on Trillanes. 

In the December 1989 bloody coup against then president Corazon Aquino, when rebels had already controlled Fort Bonifacio, headquarters of the Army and the Marines, it was the young Lieutenant Galvez who led a team that occupied Gate 2 of the camp to force senior army officers to board a Land Cruiser that brought them to a detention room instead of their offices. 

This was after he joined fellow rebel Scout Rangers who held hostage key officers and commanded vital installations to control the camp.

Galvez later joined the Rangers in occupying posh hotels in Makati, prolonging the coup to 9 days.

Army chief, too

Galvez would spend years in detention in Fort Bonifacio, along with some of his 1985 classmates at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) such as the current Army chief, Lieutenant General Rolando Bautista. 

They were among those granted amnesty by President Fidel Ramos in 1996.

The role of Galvez is detailed in a report of a fact-finding commission, headed by former chief justice HIlario Davide Jr, that was organized after the failed coup.

Galvez was present in at least one meeting held by then Major Abraham Purugganan and Captain Danilo Lim to plan the coup months prior. 

They all belong to the elite First Scout Ranger Regiment of the Army, which joined the 1989 coup lock, stock, and barrel. Their involvement caused the high command to temporarily disband them later.

“The first meeting was reportedly held at the office of Purugganan. In attendance were Col Luisito Sanchez, Capt Rogelio Bonifacio, Capt Lim, Capt Nestor Flordeliza, Capt Joe Cruz, Lt Stephen Flores, Lt Charles Galvez and enlisted personnel including MSgt Demabildo. It was mentioned that an ‘activity’ may happen sometime,” read the report. 

At the time, Galvez had just spent 4 years in the field and was said to be a member of the Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa, Soldiers of the Filipino People, Young Officers’ Union (RAM-SFP-YOU).  

 YOUNG GALVEZ. The AFP chief of staff in his younger years

Agitated by Left influence

The young soldiers were agitated by what their rebel officers, such as then colonel Gregorio Honasan, described to them as leftist infiltration of the Cory Aquino Cabinet. Honasan, like Trillanes, is now a senator.

Frustrated with continued patronage politics and corruption after the military helped boot out dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the young soldiers became easy recruits for at least 7 coup attempts against Cory Aquino.

It was the December 1989 coup that came close to toppling her government, forcing her to ask the US to fly its fighter jets over rebel positions.

The mutineers took control not only of Fort Bonifacio but also attacked the general headquarters of the military at Camp Aguinaldo and seized the Villamor Air base, headquarters of the Air Force.

Other rebel units took control of air assets from Sangley Point in Cavite and flew to the capital to strafe key locations, such as Malacañang, while government-controlled F-5s ran after them. Simultaneous attacks were launched in various camps nationwide. 

The rebels were eventually overpowered by government troops.

Fidel Ramos was then defense chief, who got elected president in 1992, while the military chief of staff at the time was Renato de Villa, who ran for president in 1998 but lost to Joseph Estrada. The commander of pro-government troops that defended Metro Manila was then Brigadier General Rodolfo Biazon, who became AFP chief of staff in 1991 and was elected senator in 1992. 

99 dead, 570 wounded

The report of the Davide Commission that investigated the coup recorded 99 dead, including 30 civilians, and 570 were wounded.

“Lives were lost; property was destroyed; the tourism industry suffered a very serious blow; and for several days the financial life of Metro Manila, and to a considerable extent of the entire country, was paralyzed,” the report reads.

Financial loss from the mutiny was estimated at P800 million to P1 billion, according to the Davide report.

The esprit de corps among the Rangers also played its part in the involvement of Galvez, according to an officer familiar with what happened at the time.

Another officer said Aquino’s perceived softness toward the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army didn’t help her popularity in the military.

The coups that plagued the Aquino administration triggered soul-searching in the military. The leadership also recognized that those involved in the coups were promising officers, according to an officer.  

Under Ramos’ Proclamation 723, the members of the RAM-SFP-YOU were granted amnesty “for the attainment of a just, comprehensive and lasting peace under the rule of law and in accordance with constitutional processes.”

Galvez would rise in the military hierarchy to occupy key positions.

These include being named commander of the Army’s 104th Brigade in Basilan, chief of the 6th Infantry Division in Maguindanao, and commander of the Western Mindanao Command before becoming AFP chief of staff. – 

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