Palawan Congressman Abraham Mitra thought he was asking a rhetorical question. He wasn’t.

Mitra said cutting the budget of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp), as the Senate had threatened, would “endanger public safety and national security.” The Senate made the threat because of Armed Forces refusal to reveal who ordered the wiretapping of former Comelec (Commission on Elections) Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano’s conversations with Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Mitra asked: “We have an Air Force without planes, and now the Senate wants a military without an intelligence group? What will they think of next, a Navy without gunboats?”

What the Philippine Navy has are primarily small sea-craft, some of them going back to World War II. These are next to useless in securing not only the country’s southern backdoor but also whatever other sea-doors it has. In addition to being unable to enforce maritime laws on, say, maximum passenger loads in domestic shipping, the Navy is also unable to check the smuggling of goods in and out of the Philippines.

If it’s true that Virgilio Garcillano returned to the Philippines on board a fast boat via a neighboring country, we can conclude that neither can the Philippine Navy prevent a single individual from violating Philippine customs and immigration laws as well.

As for the Air Force, Mitra was almost literally correct. Although it has helicopters and other aircraft, some of these are so old and badly maintained they’ve been known to drop like rocks while in flight. Currently the Air Force has no serviceable jets to police Philippine skies, despite a well-publicized billion-peso “modernization plan” that includes the purchase of advanced aircraft for it.

But Mitra could also have pointed out that in the Army, many soldiers have no bullets or rifles because they’ve sold them, or no boots either. Corruption in the military is so far gone it includes the purchase at a cost of hundreds of millions—Gen. Carlos F. Garcia should know—of boots that might as well be made of cardboard because they fall apart within days. We also have the testimony of the late Army Scout Ranger Captain Rene Jarque that some soldiers survive on instant noodles and crackers because some officers steal their food allowances.

But every Filipino who bothers to keep up with the mostly bad news in the country of our sorrows knows about these. He or she also knows that corruption, as the ultimate perk of power, is among the root causes of the government’s unpreparedness in either the arts of war or in providing the people even a semblance of passable governance.

But as unprepared as it is to repel an invasion or defend the country’s borders, there is one area in which the Philippine military has excelled since the founding of the Philippine Constabulary by the US colonial regime in 1900. It is in the defense of the political and economic interests of the handful of families that has monopolized political power in this country since the days of the Commonwealth, and of its foreign patrons.

It is those interests that have always been at the core of every Philippine government’s understanding of “national security” from Manuel Roxas’ to Marcos’, and now to Arroyo’s. The current political crisis over whether Mrs. Arroyo conspired with Garcillano in manipulating the results of the May 2004 elections has merely served to confirm that it is this same limited view that prevails in a military charged with the protection of the people.

It should be obvious that the leadership of the Armed Forces believes it to be a matter of “national security” that whoever ordered the May 2004 wiretapping should forever be a secret, no matter if, in the minds of most Filipinos, the usual suspects currently reside in Malacanang. The military also insists, in defying the Senate, that it will obey “only the chain of command.” This chain, lest we forget, can go no higher than the present putative president of the Republic, who by law is the commander–in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Certainly the national interest is more than the class and familial interests of the Arroyos, or of their kin, cronies and other partners in preserving the power that has fattened their bank accounts. In the present instance, it is in the national interest for the citizenry to know if the May 2004 vote was manipulated or not so Filipinos will know if they have a legitimate president or not.

Beyond that is the even more urgent need for the sovereign people of this country, should it turn out that there indeed was massive fraud in 2004 and Mrs. Arroyo an illegitimate president, to devise the means to correct the flaws of the electoral system which allowed both to happen. Of special relevance, for example, is the already decades’ old need to reform the Commission on Elections, which since Marcos has never lived up to its Constitutional role as guardian of the ballot.

National security as much as national interest in its most authentic sense is also at stake. Those who manipulate elections strike at the heart of the democratic process, subverting the sovereign right of the people to choose their leaders, and therefore undermining the foundations of the Republican system of government.

Representative government being fundamental to that system, the presidency is at its apex. The president after all, is the most powerful and most visible representative of the people as guaranteed by fair and honest elections. Without that guarantee, whoever sits in Malacanang is an usurper who deserves to be thrown out for the sake of the integrity of the Republican ideal.

It is clear, however, that Isafp is beyond these niceties, preferring silence instead of disclosure in the face of demands not only from the Senate but from the Filipino people to learn who ordered the wire-tapping, the public exposure of the tapes of which last summer plunged this country into its worst crisis since 2000.

This is not the “intelligence” the country needs, since it is focused on defending the interests of a handful of politicians and their cronies, and presuming those interests to be the same as those of the nation’s. This kind of “intelligence” the country can do without. “A military without an intelligence group?” The answer could very well be, Why not? That might be what the military doesn’t have now.

(Business Mirror)

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.

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