Monday, June 11, 2007

The Cavalier Club

The Philippine Military has been at the heart of three major historical and political events of the last six years: (1) Edsa Dos and the overthrow of Joseph Estrada, made possible by then Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes whose "withdrawal of support" (really a Mutiny of the highest disloyalty to the Chain of Command) on 19 January 2001, emboldened Hilario G. Davide judicial putsch the very next day; (2) the Oakwood Mutiny, which cleaved the Chain of Command between its top brass and its young officers corps over the issue of graft and corruption in the Armed Forces; and (3) the electoral frauds of 2004, in which the Military was implicated by the Garci recordings.
On top these, the AFP's three principal arenas of military operation are deeply political in nature given the goals and methods of the CPP-NPA, the Moro separatists and the Jihadists of Al Qaeda's global terrorist network.

As much as any other time in history, the Philippines needs a professional, independent, nonpartisan armed forces. Perhaps that is why the Filipino People have seen fit to put no less than four military men in the Senate.

When the Fourteenth Congress convenes, the Senate will have four Members with singular military records and remarkable personal histories: Rodolfo Biazon, Ping Lacson, Gringo Honasan, and Sonny Trillanes. All Mistahs of the elite Philippine Military Academy, now Senators of the Republic, let's all give a warm welcome to the CAVALIER CLUB.

Each in his own unique way, has already played a major role in the military and political history of the country, by being principal players in a number of major events and controversies that have also deeply involved the Philippine Military.

Gringo Honasan
has been a significant (if not entirely beneficent) national figure since Edsa 1986 and the bona fide coup d'etats of the late eighties. I used to think his becoming a Senator in the nineties would satisfy that romantic streak of Messianism in Gringo by giving him the power and influence to Reform the Armed Forces -- for which he once organized a famous Movement, RAM. But for some reason, Democracy did not quite take with him at least not yet. Here is a classic on Gringo from PCIJ: The Soldier as Messiah. At the start of the campaign, Gringo was actually in detention, but suddenly made bail in time to campaign, probably with the help of his old patron, now a pro-Administration solon in Juan Ponce Enrile. Gringo is accused of involvement in the Oakwook Mutiny of July 2007.

Rodolfo Biazon graduated from the Philippine Military Academy as the Goat of Class '61, but went on to become Commandant of Marines, and Armed Forces Chief of Staff (1991-92). After retiring from a distinguished military Service, Pong Biazon entered politics, first becoming a Senator in 1992. Currently he is Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security. It was his committee that delved the deepest into the true origin and provenance of the Garci Tapes, revealing eye-witness testimony that the Intelligence Service of the AFP maintained wiretapping facilities during the 2004 election campaign season and post-election period.

The Garci Affair has many ironic features that have only come into view with the passage of time. For one thing the strategy employed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from the very beginning, was to claim that mere possession, reproduction and distribution of the Garci recordings were illegal under the Rep. Act 4200 The Anti-Wiretapping Act. Which of course, is literally true, because its author Lorenzo Tanada banned ALL use of wiretapped materials illegal except under Court Order (when lawful authorities seek permission to intercept and record certain communications), OR as evidence of crimes that have been committed against the national security (as for example, when unauthorized spying or surveillance is undertaken by anyone for political, military, or criminal purposes).

But what the Conversations revealed about wholesale cheating in 2004, was Knowledge that ordinary people, once having acquired it through no fault or exertion of their own, certainly felt a right to it. The famous Public's Right to Know argument made the rounds as a kind of rhetorical riposte to the Palace's concerted campaign to paint the Garci Conversations as being "Poisoned Fruits" that could not be used for any legal purpose. The Public and the Media, naturally came to see the Anti-Wiretapping Law itself as an obstacle to "getting at the truth" about the 2004 elections, since the principal physical and legal evidence of the fraud were the Garci Recordings themselves. The Palace was using the Anti-Wiretapping Law to suppress media outlets publishing the Garci Conversations or posting MP3s of the actual recordings.

What most people missed however is that someone with orders from higher up, probably Isafp, recorded those conversations illegally, in direct violation of the very same Anti Wiretapping Law. But no one was very interested in this particular crime against national security, no one cared that the Office of the President had had itself wiretapped in order to keep an ear on Virgilio Garcillano's conversations just in case he was playing both sides. No one cared that the Philippine Military's main intelligence unit had been prostituted to a despicable and partisan political purpose. No one cared because they were mesmerized by the perhaps more glamorous crime of electoral fraud of which the conversations bespoke tantalizing volumes.

Most people, except for Rodolfo Biazon, whose Senate Defense Committee conducted the investigations that revealed the involvement of Isafp with the Garci recordings. Senator Biazon promises to take up the investigation in the incoming Congress.

He will surely be ably assisted by Ping Lacson, who wants to take the Blue Ribbon Committee from Joker Arroyo whose motto there has been: "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"! As Erap's Chief of Police, Ping Lacson has some reason to be disdainful of the dispensation that replaced them, since the PNP was never in better hands recently than in his, in term of respect from the public for a demonstrated corrigibility. His strong law and order stance and solid record there is unique among the Senate candidates this year.

The last time Sonny Trillanes was in the Senate, he was testifying about that still mysterious event called the Oakwood Mutiny. I am looking forward to his term in office for a thorough explanation of the beguiling events that led up to and followed that singular event. But more than that, I have a hunch he will turn out to be most substantive Senator of the Cavalier Club, considering his Cinderella story in getting there. I like his thinking on graft and corruption not only in the Armed Forces but in society as a whole. In particular his backing for a National Infrastructure Program to absorb the Pork Barrel is a neat possible solution to that national disgrace. It will surely puzzle other polities that we accept "pork barrel" as if it was the most natural thing to do.


Ben Vallejo said...

Let's see what the Cavaliers can do to further professionalize the AFP. We have to realize that the officer corps of the AFP is not purely sourced from the PMA but a huge chunk come from the ROTC program.

Under the Arroyo administration the ROTC program has been neglected. The Arroyo administration gained political mileage by caving in to leftist demands when it approved a national service law that had good intentions but dismal implementation. I hope the newest Cavalier in the Senate, Mr Trillanes will look into this matter and legislate the necessary reforms to improve our reserve officers training program. This is part and parcel of a stronger and more professional AFP.

MBW said...

These former PMAers who have become Senators cannot in reality do a lot to professionalize the AFP.

The military is directly under the command tutelage of the Malacanang boss. It is there where the professionalization process starts, i.e., to urge Malacanang to stop treating the soldiers as their private army.

You do that and you will start the process.

Retired military officers are GONE as far as the active service is concerned; not even those who were elected to the legislatures can be considered other than retired and GONE! Except for the control of the purse string (during budget hearings), these retired PMA cavaliers have realistically little influence on what goes on in the military and they know that!