Kudeta is Tagalog slang for coup d'etat, coined during several attempts by factions of the Philippine military to take over the government during the Aquino administration from 1987-1989. The pronounciation is quite near "kubeta", Tagalog for "toilet", which goes to show how people feel about coups.

During these three years, rebellion by the military was so frequent, that most of the population began to take it for granted. Indeed, gunfire could be breaking out between Camp Crame (the Philippine National Police headquarters) and Camp Aguinaldo (Armed Forces of the Philippines HQ) and all that would happen is that EDSA would be closed (these two camps are a few hundred meters away from each other, on opposite sides of Manila's main thoroughfare). For the rest of the country, indeed the rest of the city, it would be business as usual.

My school was just up the street (about a kilometer or two away) from these two camps; in high school, a kudeta meant we'd have no classes for a week (until the shooting stopped). Sometimes we'd sit outside and watch helicopters pour tracer fire into one camp or another; or look at the antiquated fighters of the Philippine Air Force fire rockets at ground targets.

Soon, we could distinguish the hollow rat-tat-tat of an M-16 from the crack of an M-14; the thump of a mortar round from the boom of a recoilless rifle. Being kids and all, this didn't seem strange to us - we'd grown up watching Rambo and Robocop.

And it seemed the rest of the city shared our disinterest; every day, crowds of onlookers gathered (called, derisively, uzi-sero, from the Tagalog usyosero, "someone who pokes his nose into other people's business"). They'd stand around, watching soldiers shooting each other. Occasionally, they'd cheer a particularly spectacular explosion; occasionally, one of the soldiers would miss, and take down a couple of uziseros by mistake.

A Marine recoilless rifle team consisted of three soldiers; one to aim and fire the weapon, one to reload it, and one to shoo away the onlookers, lest they be hit by the backblast.

Many were poor people, tambays, shiftless young men and their drunk fathers. Street children. Kids whose classes got cancelled, and had no place to hang out. Hell, by the fourth or fifth kudeta, me and my classmates were there, despite the danger, despite our parents' strict warnings.

Some, however, were there for less savory reasons. A soldier goes down, someone runs over and pulls his boots off, someone else filches his rifle, as well as all the ammo and grenades they can carry. The soldier's squadmates, cursing, can do nothing but watch; they can't shoot civilians, and they can't break cover.

The soldiers park a truck in front of Camp Crame's gate, to serve as cover; as soon as the soldiers dive out of the cab, looters scramble up the side to get what they can. A news crew tracks a man, running off, trying to hide a mortar shell under a towel. Boxes of ammo, crates of grenades; everything is carried off.

You have to think of the depths of poverty people have descended to, if they can risk gunfire to steal the boots off a dead soldier, just to sell them for a hundred pesos (about US$2) a pair. Perhaps to feed a family, but more likely, to buy more gin or drugs, so they can forget their plight.

When the shooting dies down, you'll see street children selling necklaces made from empty shell casings. Souvenirs; as if the whole coup d'etat thing was just another holiday.

Maybe, here in the Philippines, that was what it was. Just another holiday.

I still have a 40mm grenade shell casing and a couple of live 5.56 mm rounds in a drawer. Souvenirs.

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