Friday, July 10, 2009

The Military as Arbiter of Political Conflict


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

13 comments:

ogie said...

JB: 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.

Ogie: JB cited democracy immaturity & errant officials as major factors that attract military activism [adventurism] in political change. I believe history will tell us that JB is correct.

I don't know about personal interests though, like getting more financial rewards than what is currently earned, messianic complex [only I can do it] and exploitative foreign interest urgings. Are these also strong motivators?

It appears we have less military rumblings of dissatisfaction since GMA has "generalized" the bureaucracy. Many are inclined to advance "monetary satisfaction" thru secret compensations as the primary reason. In today's corrupt culture this is not far from reality.

I think the military can also be "democracy" immature/illiterate, and as corrupt as our civilian leaders, which can also be causes for military participation in political change or inaction [just doing their best to maintain the status quo for knowing nothing else better, or, hey just look at the bonuses for silence and inaction!!].

Whatever. But I wonder why I cannot get rid of a nagging thought - that there is collusion between the military and our top government officials.

Jun Bautista said...

Ogie,

The military is as diverse as the civilian population is and the various groups within it can have different motivations (bonuses or secret compensation, as you term them, probably included) for different purposes: to maintain the status quo like what happened during martial law or overthrow the existing dispensation. The military has been politicized both as a force for advancing the interests of those who cling to power and as a force for change (although seemingly good, but nonetheless a sympton of our failing democracy). My discussion focuses more on the latter.

ogie said...

No doubt about the optimistic or positive pro-military discussion of yours, Jun. In this sense, I believe it is reasonable to institutionalize the military as a semi-independent branch of government with a defined role that allows it to OFFICIALLY INTERFERE IN CIVILIAN LEADERSHIP without any or at minimal national risks in times of grave instability and national crisis fomented or aggravated by the excesses of the other branches of government particularly the executive branch.

A well defined role will have other benefits. Since a "qualified and authorized" coup is swift and orderly, it may get rid of the often annoying long-drawn civilian protests that have been abusing the freedom of expression, which has lately lost most of its efficacy.

I really don't know how to define its final role or form in this new scheme if ever it is seen as meritorious in today's real unique world of ours. Its new role must be carefully defined so as to give the people a better appreciation, respect and greater interest in the military which at this time is not so well taken. It would also help as a righteous deterrent for our civilian leaders who will now face two disciplinary fronts - our civilian courts and "coup-ic" justice [for want of a term] of the military. Since its new role would be semi-civilian it can now be sanctioned to spend OFFICIAL TIME in civic works which it is sometimes [should be often] called to do during lax "military seasons" or peaceful times - construction or engineering brigade, medical mission, policing function, and community or other social functions.

We are spending a lot of money for our military that do not seem to be justified. Let us help ourselves rid of this aggravation by finding out how we can maximize the huge budget we are giving them.

Speaking of the budget, I believe in redirecting money from the military to the police who should be supported more in the fight against rebels. For me, these rebels are better fought by the home grown police who are more familiar with the people and terrain than the itinerant military, often of troubled minds because of families to think of in far away homes.

Having said that I will now sit back and expect a barrage of critical "brotherly" responses to my "soft" and unorthodox appreciation of the military. hehe...

I hope I have not gone way beyond [too far, hehe..] the scope of Jun's treatise.

Have a nice day, all.

Jun Bautista said...

Hi Ogie,

I am not advocating for a political role of the military in our affairs nor am I in appreciation of their participation in our political affairs; I believe the military should remain where it should be: as guardians of the nation's territorial integrity. That is why I emphasized in my article that coups are criminal and unconstitutional. I have only outlined the reasons as to what shaped the military's taking of an active role in our political affairs.

As to the budget issue, huge spending for the military makes it stronger and therefore good for the nation's security, but at the same time we run the risk of strengthening the military too much and making it an immense force to reckon with when it dabbles into our political affairs, like what is happening in Latin America where military spending is so huge even though Columbia is the only one in the region confronted with a strong security threat. So I am with you in saying that our budget is better spent in other essential needs, such as education, housing, employment, etc.

And yes, I agree with you, the counterinsurgency is an internal or police matter that should be handled by the PNP. I believe there has already been a policy shift made before wherein counterinsugency roles have been given to the PNP.

James Miraflor said...

I guess having the military as an arbiter in a period of political stalemate is not necessarily evil. At most, I would see it as a neutral force that can be harnessed either for change or the status quo, by the right-wing or the left wing, of reaction or revolution (or even reform).

On the one hand, we have the example the coup of Augusto Pinochet overthrowing the democratically elected social reformist Salvador Allende in Chile, on the other we have Hugo Chavez whose early military adventurism failed, but later won the election, and then ousted through a coup, but finally came back through another round of popular elections. Military had been pivotal in ousting the virtual (virtual only because at that time, martial law was already lifted) dictator Marcos and the corrupt Estrada regime, as much as it had been the cause of destabilization during the Aquino administration.

I would say, that while building democratic institutions may be helpful indeed in forwarding one variant of democracy (the liberal-type), it may also act so as to subvert democracy or preserve an anti-democratic polity. Therefore, more than its institutional form (of procedures and rules), democracy and its forces must be seen as an expression popular power that may, at times, emanate from our soldiers. The military as arbiter of political conflict may not subscribe to the mainstream notions of liberal democracy, but it certain places, the military may be the only real genuine forces of democracy.

ogie said...

Hello Jun, thanks for the ideas.

Re: The character of the Military. You are right a too strong military is always a great risk. But what is too strong? What is just right? I think we face the fearsome risk in whatever strength the military be. A weak one can always be strengthened by interested parties, inside and outside the country. The military have the arms and the civilians don't, despite the fact that it is only right [a constitutional right made deliberately mum] to have them in our homes for our defense against intruders, armed robbers, akyat bahay gangs, including threats from any military misadventures that may adversely affect our very lives.

Re: Defining roles. We need to be creative. Our situation is not in the military books. More in the CIA's, hahahah... sure. I once had the occasion to ask a military officer, a close friend why they can't get rid of the NPA. The answer was quick, "When we get rid of them, there will be no more use for us, see?" The reply struck me kind of odd, but I had to laugh when I sensed the seriousness in the man's voice in the face of clear incongruity. He could be right, or else hindi talaga nila kaya!

Whatever the reason, the NPA has now become a permanent fixture in their strongly held provinces. And the military has increased their budget. Naturally!

Re: The NPA no more by 2010- GMA. This is another reason for me to doubt the promise of eradicating the NPA on or before 2010. hahahaa... what a laugh! And the peace table is once more being resorted to. Before this new peace effort can bear fruits 2010 is here and the NPAs too will still be around.

Re: Who are doing the dirty work of chaos? A ranger sergeant, a compadre, assigned at one time in our Western region VIII told me that he had to be very careful in following patrol or investigation orders. A couple of times he was engaged in a gunfight with armed men they accosted after reports reached their HQ of their presence. His CO ordered them to stop firing when he realized that he heard the distinctive sound of enemy's 50 caliber machine gun that could only belong to the military. Another time, a radio message reached his CO to stop the shooting because they were engaging one of their own units not wearing military uniforms. The worst time, the most frustrating, was when they were about to capture an enemy's camp and his CO got the order to cease firing and withdraw.

These gunfights according to him were deliberate for reasons he can only surmise. From these encounters he could no longer trust his COs. When their platoon or patrol was forced to camp out for the night in the mountains, he would very quietly sneak outside the guarded perimeter to where he thought he would be safe. Sometimes he would seek a big tree, climb up to a safe height and tie himself to a big branch and sleep, wake up ahead of the others and sneak back to camp.

There were times when armed men under surveillance for being members of the NPA turned up lining in a single file with the soldiers waiting to cash their paychecks at the post office. He was surprised when he recognized their checks as no different from his.
[to be continued]

ogie said...

[con't]
Re: The Budget. I mentioned this paycheck account because we don't know for sure what our military people do with our huge money budgeted for them, particularly the intelligence fund that amounts to more than a quarter billion every year. These incidents may just be small stuffs compared to how our soldiers actually do their work on the bigger scale. Knowing how efficient our soldiers are, these incidents sound to me as only the tip of the iceberg.

Re: The rightful agency to fight insurgency. How much have been devolved to the PNP, the PNP that should report directly to the LGUs? The civilian authorities must do the fighting, not the national itinerant, therefore absentee AFP.

Re: Beyond coups to the right to bear arms. I need to say my piece a bit more on this. When do you think we can institutionalize this? Or, is the present licensing already it? Paano iyong mga homemade kasi mahal ang pinakamura na gawa sa Danao o China? Marami ang mayroon nito. Makabili naman lang legal ng bala. GMA now is after a million loose firearms. Would it be right to license them with very llttle expense and trouble for the owners? If this can’t be done how does GMA expect to get hold of these firearms?

[end]

ogie said...

James: "I would say, that while building democratic institutions may be helpful indeed in forwarding one variant of democracy (the liberal-type), it may also act so as to subvert democracy or preserve an anti-democratic polity. Therefore, more than its institutional form (of procedures and rules), democracy and its forces must be seen as an expression popular power that may, at times, emanate from our soldiers. The military as arbiter of political conflict may not subscribe to the mainstream notions of liberal democracy, but in certain places, the military may be the only real genuine forces of democracy."

Thank you for your reply, James.
All it takes probably is a little debate about the de/merits of the suggestion.

I like the creative habit you have manifested, James – mulling over every idea that has possibilities for a better democracy in a unique country such as ours; ideas that have good prospects of involving all sectors [likely and unlikely] and searching how each may be made able, responsible and “alive” participants in the evolution for the most appropriate form of democracy for us.

Today, we only know too well and by heart that we can’t use the usual forms of democracy no matter how successful they have been in other countries simply because no two countries are the same. We need to study and create what is most appropriate for us.

Institutionalizing a kind of military that works for our own unique circumstance is what I am most interested. It seems, my sixth sense tells me, that a particular “neutral” kind may just be the best for us. What it is, right now I can’t put my finger on.

But I know for certain that it will not be the CIA type that works best only for its true and one master. Neither the present one that lends easily to unbridled exploitation by unscrupulous Trapos at the executive branch.

Jun Bautista said...

James and Ogie,

Thank you for the interesting inputs. The military can only become as a truly democratic force when it acts only as the representative of the people, that is, by being a beholden to no one and acting only to enforce what the law dictates. Of course it goes without saying that these laws are just and legitimate. That being said, the military has no business meddling in our political affairs; it should, for example, resist being used to perpetuate someone in power or overthrowing someone who legitimately holds power.

Only in extreme cases, as when the people have truly revolted against the established order, that the military must lend its hand and perform extraconstitutional duties. I said duty because it is the military's duty to serve the people.

Jun Bautista said...

Ogie,

I am not sure about whatever happened with the policy shift before re who should deal with the insurgency. The suggestion, though, that there could be politics involved in this which is for the AFP to justify bigger budget is not far-fetched. What I know for sure is that the AFP continues its counter-insurgency role.

As to the right to bear arms, i'm not sure I agree with this idea. We can already own firearms under present laws and we are better off leaving this matter to legislation and should not burden ourselves making this a constitutional issue that could only give us problems like in the US.

Anonymous said...

From the 2006 Supreme Court decision in Gudani v. Senga:

"Parenthetically, it must be said that the Court is well aware that our country's recent past is marked by regime changes wherein active military dissent from the chain of command formed a key, though not exclusive, element. The Court is not blind to history, yet it is a judge not of history but of the Constitution. The Constitution, and indeed our modern democratic order, frown in no uncertain terms on a politicized military, informed as they are on the trauma of absolute martial rule. Our history might imply that a political military is part of the natural order, but this view cannot be affirmed by the legal order. The evolutionary path of our young democracy necessitates a reorientation from this view, reliant as our socio-political culture has become on it. At the same time, evolution mandates a similar demand that our system of governance be more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the citizenry, so as to avoid an environment vulnerable to a military apparatus able at will to exert an undue influence in our polity."

Jun Bautista said...

Anonymous that is a very relevant observation by the writer of that decision.

HILLBLOGGER said...

The military becomes an arbiter of political conflict when national leadership fails or when government has become corrupt beyond a tolerable limit.

The armed forces become arbiters of political conflict when the rank and file are politicised by civilian powers causing the military to lose their moral bearing. The military cannot exist when there is no political discipline, hence they naturally take to the task of re-establishing order, even if it means going beyond and outside the role for which they have been mandated.