Friday, July 10, 2009
In the July 9 New York Times article "Fuel for a Coup: Perils of Latin America's Oversized Military," Nobel Prize winner, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias wrote that strong militaries in Latin America have paved the way for military solutions to political conflicts in the region. He observed that the coup d'état that led to the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is something that is not unexpected in a region that "continues to view armed forces as the final arbiter of social conflicts."
While the Philippines is not as extravagant as Latin America when it comes to military spending, since the days of martial law our armed forces have increasingly taken an active role in trying to resolve our nation's manifold problems. We thought that after EDSA I the re-branding (from AFP to New AFP) and reorganization of the armed forces would eventually lead to its depolitization. But as history would have it, coup after coup have wracked the nascent administration of then President Corazon Aquino.
Yet again under the present administration, the military continued its political involvement in seeking solutions to our socio-political problems during the so-called Oakwood Mutiny despite repeated indoctrination at the nation's premiere military academy and among the ranks of active duty military personnel against military adventurism. Then there was the Manila Pen incident. The leader of Oakwood, Navy Lieutenant Antonio Trillanes IV, would later on be popularly elected as senator even while he was behind bars.
Coup d'état as a means of achieving change is, aside from being a crime punishable by law, without a doubt unconstitutional. Not even the present constitutional provision defining the role of the armed forces as the protector of the people can legally justify the military's role in acting as the arbiter of the country's political conflicts. That provision was meant to highlight the military's role in protecting the people against external threats or aggression, and not as a prescription against a corrupt government, however appealing the idea may be to others.
Arias says the imbalance between Latin America's fragile democracies and strong militaries, with the scales tipping toward the latter, has much to do with the military taking an active role on the political landscape. The Honduran experience shows that when Zelaya committed flagrant disregard of the country's Constitution and defiance of the high court's ruling, the military decided to resolve the impasse by arresting Zelaya and whisking him out of the country. The Honduran military's swift action did decisively what the Supreme Court and Congress failed to do: to immediately stop the illegal actions of an abusive president.
The failure of our democratic institutions in maintaining political stability and reigning in of official excesses have left our people looking for answers elsewhere. Idealists in the military have seen this as an impetus for involvement in transforming our society by resorting to extra-constitutional measures. As citizens equally disgusted by the worsening problems in the country, these soldiers follow the route where they have been trained well in seeking the much needed change. And for a country that is yet to see a truly military rule, Marcos's martial law notwithstanding, hard line military idealists would find the idea of a military junta as a seductive goal, especially so that previous administration changes have only resulted in installing new faces into power without resolving the country's fundamental problems. The guiding political aphorism, it would seem, is that when democracy fails force becomes a necessity.
To be sure, the armies of other countries are much more powerful and highly trained compared to those of Latin America and the Philippines. But we do not see the United States or United Kingdom being threatened by coup d'états. The reason is their democratic institutions and processes do not fail them. Sure there are failings here and there, but not on a scale as grand as in our country. And solutions are invariably found. In the Philippines we've seen how our democratic processes and institutions have been repeatedly mocked by those in power: until now not a single verdict of conviction has been handed down against the former First Lady Imelda Marcos despite the plethora of cases brought against her, she and her family have reacquired political power, public officals who only earn miniscule salaries continue to live lavish lifestyles, we have a president who committed an act comparable to or even worse than Watergate but continues to remain in power, scandals after scandals are being heaped upon us by government officials who remain unscathed by the scalpel of justice, etc.
For as long as we do not fully mature as a democracy, where our democratic institutions and processes are revered as inviolable, members of the military establishment clamoring for change will continue to see their relevance in instituting political reforms. As long as our politicians continue to tinker with our Constitution and unabashedly violate the law, our institutions fail to cut down official excesses and public officials defy the people's will, the military will remain an active participant of political change.
SOURCE: Philippine Commentary