Add the possibility of a coup to the two most popular arguments currently being advanced by generals, former generals, certain congressmen, and the usual media hacks to stop the House hearings on military corruption.

The first argument, repeated so often its imbecility is beginning to sound like words of wisdom to the unthinking, is that General Carlos F. Garcia is being singled out for persecution. After all, says this argument, there is as much corruption in the rest of the government as there is in the military.

Garcia himself is said to be thinking thus, which explains why he had this belligerent expression when he first faced the joint inquiry of the House of Representatives Committees on National Defense and on Banks.

As he invoked his right against self-incrimination, and stared down his congressional interrogators, he might very well have been saying to himself that he didn’t deserve the torment because his equally guilty tormentors were getting away with worse.

As he reads the newspapers everyday over coffee served by that soldier-cook who– his wife Clarita bragged to the US Customs Service– also plays the piano, Garcia could also have been thinking about all those corrupt “journalists” who’re so good at crucifying people in print and broadcast, while being so bad at ethical behavior.

These are very same sanctimonious breed of media crooks he would run into in Camp Aguinaldo waiting for handouts, or, for that matter, those who do PR for the very politicians they’re supposed to cover. Who knows? At some point in his profitable, non-combat military career, Garcia could also have rubbed elbows with those columnists who comment on governance and politics while earning honoraria as directors of government corporations. The general could very well have wondered why these vermin sit in judgment over others instead of being themselves in jail, or living out their meaningless lives in a malarial swamp somewhere.

The painful truth is that corruption is indeed everywhere, and not only in government but in the entirety of Philippine society including business and the media. The primary reason why it can’t be rooted out is because it has become one big conspiracy rather than the doing of individuals in isolation.

You see the conspiracy at work in the way bids are rigged by bidder-firms and those supposedly guarding the integrity of government procurements–or in the way those companies eager to make money out of military contracts provide gratitude money to comptrollers.

You see it as well in the moralizing of lawyers who claim that everyone’s entitled to a competent defense–and who proceed to provide their clients the best lies money can buy, while their best friends approve. In every instance without exception in this country, corruption is not an individual enterprise but a collective undertaking that would not have flourished otherwise.

Thus is the worst part of corruption the ease with which it is now accepted–and therefore allowed and even applauded by a public whose moral sense has declined together with its living standards.

Some citizens inveigh against corruption in letters to the editor, true, and periodically you hear the usual diatribes against it from pulpits and lecterns. But the rest know they too would have done the same as Garcia, or even worse.

They–and I mean Filipinos in their hundreds of thousands–actually admire those who now have the means not only to own palatial houses and a fleet of luxury cars, and to keep their children in schools abroad and their wives in jewelry and shopping money, but who have also salted away enough dollars abroad so they can retire in obscene luxury in the favored retreat of Third World dictators and generals, the United States.

Too many Filipinos envy thieves rather than despise them. Corruption is no longer an offense against the system. It is the system.

Given this state of affairs, goes the argument, why investigate and prosecute Garcia at all, since they–government officials, business, the media and the public–are all in it together, anyway?

The country heard the same argument in 2000-2001– before, during and after the Estrada impeachment trial. Briefly, it said that other presidents had been as corrupt and probably were even more so. Why single out Estrada then? The answer is only seemingly facetious. Estrada got caught, and so did Garcia. There are legions of others who didn’t get caught and who probably never will. But those who do get caught, went the argument, should similarly get away with it if only because others have.

The critical point is whether, because something is going on–summed up in the Filipino reaction “ganyan talaga” (things are really like that) to corruption reports–it should continue to go on, meaning the entire country should surrender to the reality of corruption.

The everyone’s-doing-it-anyway argument leads to the conclusion that only revolution can offer the country any hope. What other hope is there in a society helpless against the cancer eating away at it, and which ruins millions of lives because the funds that could have made them better have ended up in secret bank accounts and as payments for New York condominiums? The irony is that those who advance the argument are those who have benefited so much from the system while pretending to defend it.

This leads us to the second argument, which Interior and Local Governments Secretary and former AFP Chief of Staff and Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes recently favored the nation with. It is that the inquiry into military corruption and the subsequent media attention it’s getting will destroy the Armed Forces of the Philippines. From this argument, we can imagine Angelo Reyes and other retired generals gliding into the next: that such an attempt to destroy a great institution could provoke a coup. Ergo, both the inquiry and the media attention should stop.

No one needs to point out that while cloaked in the seemingly noble intention of preserving the “protector of the people,” the Reyes argument does seem suspiciously like an attempt to prevent the exposure of the extent of corruption in Reyes’ former turf as well as former generals’ being implicated in it. And does the AFP need the help of any outside agency to destroy it, given the ease with which the officer corps, more than Congress, the media or even the NPA, is destroying it?

On the other hand, the coup threat can’t be anything else but a form of blackmail– an attempt to intimidate Congress and the country at large into silence and looking the other way while Garcia and company continue their merry way to retirement in the United States.

The good news is that the threat has about as much teeth as a defanged cobra. Plotting and haphazardly implementing them is about as far as the Philippine military has succeeded in the fine arts of coups d’etats, as the entire world saw for itself from 1987 to 1989, and more recently in 2003.

Although not unique in its ineffectuality as a defense force, the Philippine military is unique in Asia in that it cannot act alone and for itself, and has always needed civilian patrons. The bad news for those retired generals plotting a coup in behalf of their beleaguered colleague is that whatever patrons they may want to enlist in their game are not likely to bite–at least not if the immediate intention is to stop Congress and the rest of the country from investigating Garcia and looking into military corruption.

The reason why should be clear enough even for PMA cadets and alumni to grasp. Both the opposition and the anti-Arroyo civil society groups–the likely civilian component of any coup attempt–regard the Garcia episode as indivisible from the overall corruption of the Arroyo administration. Its involvement in a coup to protect Garcia and his fellow generals would make the opposition look silly indeed. Not that groups or individuals always act rationally in Planet Philippines. But any such involvement by the opposition in such a coup is unlikely to earn it any public support, which would make failure almost certain.

Scratch a coup from this malevolent sector off your list of threats. But write in another possibility in its place. It is that the younger officers smarting from all the brickbats being thrown at the AFP as a result of the generals’ utter lack of honor and integrity could be thinking of a coup of their own.

These officers would not need to shop around for patrons for long. Perhaps aching to have their turn at the trough, but cloaking that intent by proclaiming the need to reform the AFP and to weed out the corruption that’s ruining the country and its people, they could forge the alliance with the usual suspects in the opposition and in civil society groups that could lead to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s hasty departure. After all, the news that Mrs. Arroyo now has a negative 67.9 percent approval rating among the people can only help.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

Join the Conversation

No comments

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *