Is the Country Now Ruled by a Military-Civilian Junta?

At least 21 generals in Arroyo cabinet, civil service hierarchy

Is a de facto military-civilian junta now ruling the country? This appears to be the case with the increasing number of military and police oligarchs occupying key posts in President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s cabinet and the civil service hierarchy.

By Bobby Tuazon

Is a de facto military-civilian junta now lording over the country? This appears to be the case with the increasing number of military and police oligarchs occupying key posts in President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s cabinet and the civil service hierarchy.

A few of these appointees used to be identified closely with the Marcos dictatorship but were retained and promoted during the Aquino and Ramos presidencies. A number of them switched loyalties from President Joseph Estrada to his then vice president, Macapagal-Arroyo, in the political turbulence that led to the former’s ouster in January 2001. Some were given juicy positions as a payback for supporting Macapagal-Arroyo in the May 2004 elections.

The latest to be appointed by Macapagal-Arroyo is Pedro Cabuay as deputy for counter-insurgency of the National Security Council (NSC). Cabuay is a former lieutenant general whose last assignment was as commander of the Southern Luzon Command (Solcom). He has been accused of being a “mini-Palparan” for alleged extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances during his stint in Southern Luzon. Cabuay has denied the allegations.

Before him, recently-retired Philippine National Police (PNP) director general Arturo Lomibao was also appointed as head of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA). Lomibao, along with current Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief, Gen. Hermogenes Esperson, Jr., was accused of involvement in the May 2004 electoral fraud that ensured the election of Macapagal-Arroyo as president.

Cabuay and Lomibao join retired military and police generals in the executive department, among them: Eduardo Ermita, executive secretary; Angelo Reyes, environment and natural resources secretary; Leandro Mendoza, transportation secretary; Hermogenes Ebdane, public works and highways secretary; Narciso Abaya, Bases Conversion and Development Authority; Ernesto de Leon, ambassador to Australia; Roy Cimatu, ambassador-at-large for the Middle East; and Benjamin Defensor, ambassador for counter-terrorism.

The others are: Honesto Isleta, presidential assistant on strategic information; Efren Abu, ambassador to BIMP-EAGA; Roberto Lastimoso, MRTC director; Dionisio Santiago, Dangerous Drugs Board; Glenn Rabonza, Office of Civil Defense executive director; Angel Atutubo, MIAA assistant general manager for security; Thelmo Cunanan, SSS chairman; Edgardo Espinosa, MECO managing director; Florencio Fianza, Philippine Racing Commission acting chair; Reynaldo Berroya, transportation assistant secretary; Enrique Galang, Bureau of Immigration executive director; and Edgar Aglipay, Philippine Retirement Authority.

There are reports that former AFP chief Generoso Senga will be named head of Transco.

Marcos dictatorship

The appointment of retired military and police officials in the cabinet and civil service bureaucracy has been an institutionalized tradition dating back to the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986). Presidents who carried on this tradition defend the appointments as based on the “professional skills and expertise” of the military and police officials and not necessarily because the government bureaucracy is being militarized.

It is on record, however, that the presence of generals in the cabinet and the civil service bureaucracy has further undermined civilian authority thus strengthening the ascendancy of military power. Military power has been boosted by high budgetary allocations, fat salaries for senior officials and guarantees of post-retirement benefits and appointments. The display of military power in the civilian bureaucracy can also be seen in the commanding presence of military and police authorities in local peace and order councils. At the executive department, it is the military that is practically holding sway in the government’s national internal security policy which is the blueprint for the total war against the Left.

The number of former military and police officials in the Macapagal-Arroyo executive bureaucracy has been unsurpassed compared to previous administrations. Many of these officials, while in active service, had been charged with graft and corruption, involvement in illicit drugs and gambling, electoral fraud and other scams. The accusations were denied, however.

Just the same, considering the current political situation and favors constantly given by the embattled president to her security forces, the creeping militarization of the government bureaucracy sends a chilling effect on concerned human rights, church and lawyers groups and civil libertarians in the country.

With her election as president tainted by electoral fraud and impeachment charges being filed for two consecutive years, Macapagal-Arroyo has resorted to strong-arm tactics to stay in power. In this regard, the declaration of emergency rule, the issuance of the calibrated preemptive response, threats of libel and surveillance on the media and executive gags on the cabinet and generals are just some of the latest political moves taken.

The national ID system which is virtually an intelligence surveillance of all Filipinos is expected to be implemented next year, according to government sources. Macapagal-Arroyo’s allies in the Senate are also pushing for the anti-terrorism bill (ATB) which, if passed into law, is a curtailment of the bill of rights most especially the right to dissent. The passage of the ATB can be the Senate’s compromise with the president and the ruling coalition-dominated House in exchange for putting the proposed charter change in the backburner.

So assertive, barefaced and abusive has been the president’s exercise of executive power that the supposed “constitutional check and balance” and accountability principle that Congress especially the Senate is supposed to symbolize has weakened. The acquiescence of Congress to executive power and, by extension, to the military and police hierarchy further undermines civilian supremacy.

Authoritarian rule

Many Filipinos see all these political measures and “legal” mechanisms being put in place, brick by brick, as a basis for placing the country under authoritarian rule. In fact, authoritarian rule will be a de facto scenario sans its formal declaration by Macapagal-Arroyo. If this happens, will not the planned charter change, which will lead to the further concentration of executive power, be a foregone conclusion?

There is no doubt that the civilian bureaucracy has become an enclave of military and police officials as a payback for supporting the president and as a means of shielding them from prosecution and accountability over their past misdeeds. Their being embedded in the center of civilian authority only shows the overshadowing presence of military power with the civilian rulers playing second fiddle or just a façade. (

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