WE CAN all sleep soundly each night in the certainty that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is on guard and watching over us. Regardless of such technicalities as due process and human rights, it is at this very moment protecting us not only from explosives experts pretending to be health workers, pregnant mothers and nine-year old girls able to carry and even fire M-16 assault rifles taller than themselves, but also from trade union leaders, community activists, lawyers, church people and even a botanist or two.
Like that other model of selfless, honest and efficient public service, the Philippine National Police, the AFP’s job is also to serve and protect. Neither always says who they’re protecting and serving, but they do occasionally mention something called “the people,” by whom we can reasonably surmise from their near-common histories and current actions they mean the hacenderos, the warlords, the foreign mining companies and the other worthies who have made this country such a heaven for themselves by making it hell for the 90 million others who have to live in this archipelago of fear. After all, there’s a rumor that even your friendly local warlord and hacendero are human, too. Think Ampatuan. Think local officials who mastermind the assassination of journalists. Think certain Philippine presidents.
Since the AFP was founded by the United States at the turn of the century, allegedly as an offspring of the Katipunan but in truth to hunt down its remnants, it’s been doing a great job of serving and protecting not only local worthies but also its primary foreign patron — the one that keeps it in arms and provides its chosen officers the training they need in, among others, the fine arts of torture and mayhem.
Recall the campaign against the Huks, and how certain units of the the AFP under the benign guidance of the Central Intelligence Agency did their bit for God, democracy, country and the United States by impaling on poles the severed heads of peasant leaders it had captured and parading them through the country’s villages to impart to the peasantry the signal lesson that it doesn’t pay to rebel, neither hunger nor oppression being reason enough to challenge the democratic order.
Recall the martial law period and how the officer corps defended democracy by serving and protecting Ferdinand Marcos, and how, later — much, much later — some of its members’ reinvented themselves as secret Marcos opponents, took credit for his downfall, and, by using the logic taught them in that magnificent wellspring of intellectual excellence, the Philippine Military Academy, they then condemned the release of Marcos political prisoners. Think Rex Robles. Think Gregorio Honasan.
Think of others such as Trillanes, who believe that launching a putsch overnight is on the same level of patriotism as years of fighting injustice. Think PMA Class of 1978. Think “the fist of martial law” (Alfred McCoy’s phrase in his book, Closer Than Brothers), and remember the brightest and the best sons and daughters of the Filipino people — poets, social workers, cancer surgeons among others — the AFP killed between 1972 and 1986 in furtherance of the democratic ideal. Think of the coup attempts from 1986 to 1989, and the bodies they left behind. Think Lean Alejandro; think Rolando Olalia. Think of the over 1,000 victims of extrajudicial killings between 2000 and 2010.
Now segue to the present, and think Morong 43. Listen to the AFP as it unashamedly announces to the world its conviction that due process, and by implication the very law itself, is a mere technicality. Thus did an AFP spokesman wave aside the Department of Justice’s findings — on which President Aquino III based his order to drop the charges against them — that the arrest of the 43 was flawed. Declaring that they would respect Mr. Aquino’s decision — suggesting thereby that the AFP had a choice in the matter — he also said in the same breath that the AFP “stands by” the “legitimacy” of the so-called operation that, armed with a warrant of arrest for a fictitious person, went on to blindfold the 43 men and women they found in an address the warrant did not specify, took them to one of their camps, and proceeded to psychologically and physically torture, humiliate and subject them to various indignities.
Many people have condemned not only the AFP’s violations of the human rights of the Morong 43, but also the statements the AFP made following the Aquino government decision to withdraw the charges against the health workers. But think national security. Think of clear and present danger; think dangerous tendencies — and think AFP.
Why should this great institution conceal its historic dedication to the defense of democracy, which it believes consists of short circuiting its own processes (or “technicalities”)? Why should it conceal its core principle that might is right — that being in possession of guns endows it with a power far above and beyond that of the courts and the Constitution? Shouldn’t we instead be thankful for the AFP’s most recent statements for being as candid as its communication skills allow, and for coming so close to declaring its true sentiments as it pursues its mission of defending democracy from itself?
Why should it pretend to a logic it doesn’t possess and to which it is immune, its officers having been indoctrinated, from their very first day at the PMA, that only the logic of violence is real, as upperclassmen demonstrate when initiating lowerclassmen into the values of the officer corps? And why should the AFP be made to fret over the fact that the health workers, during the months of their captivity, could have otherwise been serving the health needs of the neglected communities, since these very same communities are the infinite sources of the political and community activists, human rights workers and other malcontents whose very existence so offends their democratic sensibilities they’ve had to rid the country of hundreds of them?
Those who fear for the future of human rights, who’re alarmed by the violations of due process committed supposedly in the service of national security, need a reality check. They should stop expecting too much of an institution that, by serving and protecting, has been the force most responsible for keeping things the way they are in the country of our despair.