Four Philippine army officers who escaped from military detention this week while on trial over a failed 2003 mutiny called on fellow soldiers yesterday to take action against "a bogus regime."
The junior officers broke out of an army camp near the capital's Makati business district on Tuesday, feeding rumors of a fresh plot to unseat President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The army chief and security analysts have played down the potential for an imminent coup attempt against Arroyo, who has yet to fully recover from last year's political crisis over opposition allegations of election cheating and corruption.
Last month, a Marine captain who is among 31 junior officers facing civilian and military trials over the mutiny, escaped from his guards after a court hearing.
"We have bolted from the repression of a bogus regime," the four fugitive officers said in a statement sent to news media.
Entitled "In fulfillment of our sworn duty," it was a call to arms, urging troops to end what it said was graft and neglect by the government, as well as the illegitimacy of Arroyo's rule.
"We do not merely seek a change in personalities," it said. "We seek the change of a system that installs the people's enemies in power and perpetuates the exclusion of the majority."
Lawyers for the four officers said they got mobile phone text messages from their clients late Wednesday and early yesterday to apologize for dragging them into the controversy over the escape.
Roel Pulido, one of the lawyers, said he was roused from sleep by a call from one of the men saying the one captain and three lieutenants were safe and "very far away."
"I was told by my client that there were brother officers who helped them escape after rumors swirled about an evil plan against the mutineers," Pulido told a news conference.
A shadowy group called Young Officers Union New Generation claimed its members had helped with the jailbreak and that the four officers had been tortured and held in solitary confinement.
Lieutenant-General Hermogenes Esperon, the army chief, said on Wednesday the military had planned to transfer the soldiers to a high-security cell after information of a plot to escape.
Officials in Arroyo's administration said the escape could be part of a plot to destabilize her government after her political foes failed to unseat her with an impeachment motion in September and several months of street protests.
Norberto Gonzales, Arroyo's national security adviser, said intelligence officials were checking reports the four officers may have defected to the New People's Army, a communist rebel group, and may be plotting to assassinate the president.