The teller, not the tale

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IF INDEED Marine Col. Generoso Mariano was calling for the overthrow of Benigno Aquino III, few except Malacanang and its own version of the Arroyo regime’s Lorelei Fajardo seem to have been either surprised or worried.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Avigail Valte went so far as to declare that once retired, Mariano could work directly for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, since, she said, the latter’s camp has been saying the same thing that Mariano said in that video someone took of him reading what looked like a prepared statement, and uploaded on YouTube.

If Valte’s reasoning is sound, everyone else who’s been saying the same thing as the opposition would also be working for Arroyo and company. That could be a sizeable number, since, as Mr. Aquino’s first year in office ends, not too many Filipinos have retained the enthusiasm they had for his candidacy and election in 2010. To a people battered by the ever rising prices of food, medical care, education, and transportation; by crime and unemployment, and, among some 20 percent of the population, by hunger, administration claims that things have improved sound mockingly hollow.

Mariano said practically the same thing. He didn’t really say anything either new or particularly shocking, and that includes his emphasis on the right to change governments. That right is an idea straight out of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson as well as others before them, to whom revolution isn’t only a right; it’s also a duty in times of oppression.

The right to revolution is in the West an idea that’s about 700 years old, going back to the English barons’ struggle for the Magna Charta in the 13th century. It’s something most of Mariano’s comrades in the Philippine military can’t quite grasp. But that’s just them. Most Filipinos have taken changing governments in stride, whether it’s through elections or people power. They weren’t particularly bothered by Mariano’s statement, and some cheered him for saying what they’ve had in mind for months about the failure of the Aquino III government to provide the relief it promised last year from the poverty and other ills Filipino flesh is heir to.

It wasn’t what Mariano was saying that drew such reactions as Valte’s, and those of other administration big shots who said he was working for the opposition, but the fact that he was a military officer. It was also because there’s been talk of some restlessness in the military, where, say the rumors, the old Cory-era complaint that there are “communists” in the administration and that it’s “soft” on communism is gaining adherents, thanks to agitation by the usual suspects, which could include Arroyo partisans.

Although they agree with much of Mariano’s statement, some Filipinos draw the line at military intervention. But what’s interesting is that the Mariano video seemed to have been made for some gathering or the other that, said Mariano, included “academicians.”

If some academics are indeed supportive of Mariano, it would be well in keeping with a view, current during the Arroyo regime among some academics, that the only hope for change in this country is intervention by an awakened and progressive wing of the military. Some of these academics were implicated in the Trillanes adventure of 2003, and in similar attempts to unseat Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They also supported Trillanes’ campaign for the Senate and that of other officers who ran for public office in the 2007 and 2010 elections.

These academics base their hopes on the Philippine military on the example of Venezuela, where former Army major, now President Hugo Chavez led a 1992 coup to establish a socialist government.

Others take a dim view of their hopes. To expect a progressive wing to develop in the Philippine military does sound like a fantasy, and dissenters argue that since its creation during the US colonial period to the present, it has been a force for the defense of elite and foreign interests to which the most feeble attempt at change is unacceptable.

The military demonstrated that very well during the Arroyo watch, when one could be murdered for being an advocate of organic farming or for collecting data on Philippine plant life. Unlike their counterparts in the Venezuelan military, which was after all founded by Simon Bolivar, Philippine military officers, schooled in a military academy patterned after the US’ West Point, have no anti-colonial, let alone anti-imperialist tradition that includes a sense of nation and identification with the poor.

But the hopes some academics pin on the military, or at least on some of its officers, are realistic in one sense: it is based on the awareness of how much the military has morphed into one of the most critical factors — perhaps the most critical of all — in the balance of power in Philippine governance. It’s an awareness shared by every Philippine government since that of Marcos, which relied on its US patron and the military to stay in power for 14 years. Despite the failure of the many coup attempts against her administration, Corazon Aquino had to grant the military various concessions, as did Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada.

To the discredit of the Arroyo regime should go the generals’ transformation into full members and partners of the economic and political elite via the vast corruption and encouragement of the grossest military excesses that put the military way ahead of such classically corrupt agencies as the Departments of Public Works and Highways and the Bureau of Customs, and earned it a special niche in the annals of human rights violations.

The result is the military’s even firmer commitment to the way things are, and the further growth of its role both as a power and a power broker in Philippine society and governance. When Mariano implied military disenchantment with the Aquino III administration in that video, it was in the context of the reality that, thanks to Marcos and most especially to Arroyo, the military has become not only a major arbiter in such policy issues as war and peace but also a power that can decide the fate of governments. Malacanang had reason to worry. But it was because of the teller, not the tale. It wasn’t the song it feared, but the singer.

(BusinessWorld)

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