MANILA, Philippines?When they bore arms in defiance of the Arroyo administration exactly a year ago Saturday, they were holed up in a posh hotel in Makati City, waiting for civilian support that never came.
Renegade officers who call themselves the Magdalo group mark on Saturday the first anniversary of their failed rebellion at the Manila Peninsula by looking for civilian recruits to join their newly launched volunteer group, Samahang Magdalo.
This time, they are using the Internet, tapping popular social networking sites such as Friendster and Facebook, to recruit supporters aged 18 and above from across the country.
Close civilian friends are running the new group?s Friendster and Facebook accounts, said Marine Capt. Gary Alejano, president of Samahang Magdalo, speaking through Philippine Daily Inquirer sources.
Alejano, along with former Navy Lt. now Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and 17 other officers were placed in Camp Crame?s maximum security facility following the botched Manila Peninsula takeover last year.
All of them face rebellion charges for last year?s siege. Eleven have been charged with coup d?état before the Makati Regional Trial Court for taking control of the Oakwood Premier Hotel in 2003.
Spreading the cause
?The purpose of launching this volunteer group is to propagate civilian members who believe in the cause and will continue to spread our cause,? sources said, quoting Alejano.
Samahang Magdalo is an umbrella organization of the Magdalo Para sa Pagbabago, a national movement the officers founded to advocate for a corrupt-free government.
Although the renegade soldiers have been in jail for years, they remain steadfast in their conviction that ?the Filipinos deserve a better government.?
Quoting Alejano, sources said the group thought of opening its doors to civilian members after volunteers who helped in the campaign of Trillanes in the May 2007 elections manifested their intention to continue their activities.
Among them was Ernesto Domingo, 52, an embassy chauffeur from Taguig. He was among Trillanes? campaign volunteers who immediately committed to the group when he heard it was accepting civilians.
Friendster and Facebook, the latest fads among the Filipino youth, became the fastest way to draw in members, said Air Force 1st Lt. Billy Pascua, acting secretary general, through confidential channels.
?We?re just thinking Pinoy. Using these sites is the in thing right now but this is just one way to recruit members,? said another source, quoting Pascua.
An application form can be downloaded from both sites and printed out. Filled-out forms can be submitted to designated ?area coordinators.?
A Baguio-based businessman in his 50s downloaded an application form from Facebook, filled it out and submitted it to his designated administrator.
Pascua shared this information with the Inquirer but refused to identify their latest member without his consent.
Aspiring members could also get the application form directly from their coordinators, Pascua added.
An affiliate, according to Alejano is expected to fulfill three chores: To become a productive and law-abiding citizen (which includes paying taxes and obeying traffic rules); to observe its code of conduct; and to support the activities of the Magdalo.
These activities pertain to ?authorized? and apolitical enterprises such as feeding programs, food distribution projects, sports fests and medical missions, among others, officers said.
Conrad Placeros, 24, a security supervisor in a telecommunications company in Makati, recently signed up with the group. He said he was willing to join protest actions and mass movements staged by the organization.
?I could lose my job for joining a group run by [so-called enemies of the state],? Placeros told the Inquirer over the phone. ?But I believe in their cause and I want to help.?
Domingo, who works as a chauffeur, also said he was not worried that his links to the group might be used against him because he was ready to fight for the rights of fellow Filipinos.
?I can help the group by following the law, by not accepting bribes or bribing anyone,? he said in an interview.
Because of the risks involved, Samahang Magdalo officers said signing up with them required guts.
?We will not allow any fund-raising activity because it breeds corruption so members will have to sustain the organization?s programs through their personal funds,? Pascua said.
He added that it was possible that members would be placed under police surveillance just like what happened to Trillanes? election campaign volunteers last year.
?But if they really believe in the group?s cause, they won?t mind the hassles,? he said.