Defending Democracy

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It was good to be reminded, and by no less than Navy Chief Vice Admiral Mateo Mayuga, that the Philippine military has been defending democracy all this time.

The admiral made a statement to this effect after a hearing on the Defense Department budget at the House of Representatives last week. The Philippine military, said Mayuga, carries arms to defend the country’s “democratic way of life,” but its officers and soldiers may not join such political activities as anti-Arroyo rallies.

“We defend democracy,” said Mayuga, “but we don’t practice democracy in the military.”

It figures. The Philippine military cannot be so democratic as to, say, take a vote among enlisted men on whether they should attack enemy positions during a battle. If every military unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines took a vote among its soldiers on whether to attack or not, or even to wage war or not, there would be no battles and no wars, since it’s more than likely that the average soldier, who enlisted because he couldn’t get a job otherwise, would choose life over the possibility of death any time. That is why the military has a hierarchy of officers from lieutenants to generals. They don’t take a vote– they issue orders. And a system of penalties and rewards sees to it that those orders are obeyed.

It is of course possible to build an army based on consensus and common cause, which would mean some degree of democratization. Not only would the soldiery know what it’s fighting for, it would also willingly go into battle in behalf of a cause whose victory it has a stake in. But it’s a sure bet that the AFP is not currently thinking of this option, given the number of junior officers and enlisted men in it whose sentiments on a vast range of issues it is not sure of.

Because they have neither a draft to compel enlistment, or the money to pay their fighters, most guerilla armies are necessarily built on some kind of consensus as to who the enemy is, who they’re fighting for, and why they’re fighting. But most standing armies are far from democratic and are in fact authoritarian institutions. In that sense they’re caught in a time warp. Although in the 21st century, when democracy is supposed to have flourished, they remain rooted in the assumptions of the 18th and 19th, which among others say that there can’t be democracy in the ranks.

Apparently, however, there can be democracy in the Philippines if not in the AFP.

While not practicing it, the Philippine military treasures democracy, and prizes it so much that it’s been defending it since it was established during the US colonial period. The Philippine Constabulary, the mother of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, was after all created by the United States at the turn of the 20th century to crush the remnants of the Philippine Revolution—in behalf, of course, of the democracy it was establishing in the Philippines on the ruins of the first Asian Republic.

Once it had done that job—the PC managed to beguile Macario Sakay with a safe conduct pass that turned out to be unsafe for Sakay, since he ended up being hanged as a “bandit” (a term that’s been replaced in these modern times by the more apt “terrorist”)—the Philippine military (led, of course, by US officers) proceeded to make sure that there would be no more foolish attempts in behalf of independence, whether armed or unarmed.

Under the sedition and inciting to sedition laws, the Philippine military and police therefore did their share in suppressing all such subversive attempts by, among other acts, arresting dangerous people like playwrights (one of them was Aurelio Tolentino, whose plays had the temerity to criticize US rule and to demand Philippine independence). The Philippine-US military also suppressed numerous instances of social unrest, including a number of peasant rebellions. Of course all this was in behalf of Philippine democracy.

Then followed the Second World War, during which the Philippine military did such a splendid job of defending democracy the country was soon overrun by the Japanese. As the war wound down, together with returning US forces it disarmed and massacred units of the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (People’s Anti-Japanese Army), and returned to the landlords of Central Luzon the lands the former had distributed to their tillers.

But who can forget how the Philippine military similarly defended democracy in 1972, when Ferdinand Marcos decided to extend his term forever via martial law? Thanks to the military, Marcos was able to “save the Republic and reform society” by throwing over 100,000 people in jail, a number of whom were tortured, murdered and made to disappear—of course in behalf of Philippine democracy.

In behalf of Philippine democracy as well, and with the enthusiastic support of the military, Marcos also abolished Congress, banned public demonstrations, imposed media censorship, and made rumor- mongering a crime, while he strengthened Philippine democracy by amassing billions in Swiss and other bank accounts.

After Marcos was overthrown by the Filipino people in 1986, elements of the Philippine military tried to defend democracy through a series of coup attempts. As we all know, coup plotting has become a military tradition of sorts in the Philippines, a coup plot or coup plots having been allegedly in the works since the Oakwood mutiny of 2003.

During the Aquino presidency the coup plots were foiled by military elements themselves. The same thing happened last February, with the difference, however, that while the Aquino military frustrated the coup attempts of 1987-89 without the benefit of the blanket authority to use all means possible that those elements now so obviously enjoy, this time the Arroyo military—if one can still call them that—does have that authority, or claims to have that authority.

In behalf of democracy then, the military and its police cohorts have banned public demonstrations, accused numerous individuals and groups of sedition, inciting to sedition and rebellion, and launched several assaults on press freedom, even as the killing of political activists continues in the countryside—all for the supposed purpose (Senator Joker Arroyo doesn’t think so) of keeping Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in power.

All this, of course, has been in the defense of democracy. And if you don’t agree you can always be arrested on some charge or the other.

(Business Mirror)

One thought on “Defending Democracy

  1. What is truly sad (and maddening at the same time), is that our current crop of senior and star-ranking military officers like Vice-Admiral Mateo Mayuga, the latest 3-star ranking AFP officer and Flag Officer-in-Command Philippine Navy, (and a few others) began their career with the most honorable of intentions: to serve their country and to serve it well even at the cost of losing their life.

    That these once valorous officers are mentally induced, morally forced to trade their honor – for a miserable political pat on the back as well as for a spurious command “pin” on their shoulders due to the general crookedness of our political system and the corruption that runs in the blood of our civilian leaders, is downright degrading to the military insitution as a whole and discouraging in the extreme for the next generation of military officers of the nation already born and yet to be born.

    Having said that, I have no sympathy for a top ranking officer who, after a lifelong service to his country, chooses to dishonor his uniform and the tenet of military honor, integrity, valor and in so doing loses every bit of his moral courage just so he could cap his career with some dubious claim to military glory. What a terrible waste!

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