Loyalty to the Commander-in-Chief, Above All Else

The new defense chief is also expected to play a major role in supporting the concentration of political power under the chief executive and her political allies now that the congressional elections are just a few months away. In this enterprise, he – unlike Cruz – is expected to be nothing less than a team player, come hell or high water.

By the Policy Study, Publication and Advocacy (PSPA) Program
Center for People Empower in Governance (CenPEG)

Posted by Bulatlat.com

Whoever will be appointed as the new secretary of defense will be heading an institution that is considered a pillar upon which the political future of the current president rests. Loyalty – over and above career qualifications – will determine President Gloria M. Arroyo’s choice for the post soon to be vacated by Avelino Cruz. Cruz, who had lawyered for the Macapagal family, has resigned over policy differences with a cabinet clique who reportedly pressured him to influence a Supreme Court (SC) decision on the people’s initiative for charter change. The SC shot down the proposal for charter change.

Said to be topping the list of likely successors is Hermogenes Ebdane, former director general of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and currently public works secretary. If he is appointed to the defense post, which is held by Mrs. Arroyo in a concurrent capacity, Ebdane will be the second police chief to occupy it since 1986. But he will also be a mainstay with a military or police background in a cabinet and top civilian bureaucracy that are increasingly being dominated by ex-generals and other senior military-police officers – at least 27 in all based on the latest count. 1

Appointing another military or police general to the Department of National Defense (DND) top post will continue a policy set by President Corazon C. Aquino since 1986 giving preferential choice for generals. Out of nine individuals who have occupied the DND position since that year, six were former AFP or police chiefs and generals: Rafael Ileto, Fidel V. Ramos, Renato de Villa, Fortunato Abat, Eduardo Ermita and Angelo Reyes. The rest were civilians, namely, Sen. Orlando Mercado, who served under Joseph Estrada; Avelino Cruz and, presently, Mrs. Arroyo herself.

Before them, out of 16 defense secretaries who served from 1939 to 1986, eight were civilians, including lawyers and legislators, and eight were military officials who either came from the defunct Philippine Constabulary (PC, now PNP) or were World War II veterans. Most of the generals had prior civilian careers, including law or medical practice, before war summoned them to active military service thus qualifying them to acquire military ranks. 2

Even at the height of the Huk rebellion during the 1950s, the defense secretaries were civilian: Ramon Magsaysay, an engineer by profession; Oscar T. Castelo, a judge; and Sotero B. Cabahug, a lawyer. During his dictatorship, Ferdinand Marcos saw to it that the DND is headed by a civilian, which included himself, and former customs chief Juan Ponce Enrile, who kept the position for 14 years. Enrile, a corporate lawyer and Marcos protégé who later turned against the dictator, of course just served to deodorize the defense establishment with a civilian façade when it actually functioned as a powerful martial law implementor. It was during this period when the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) became highly politicized and, as a major pillar propping up the dictatorship, it imbibed the culture of military supremacy and a sub-culture of corruption while paying lip-service to the pre-eminence of civilian authority.

The period following the fall of Marcos rule was politically and economically volatile marked by military coups d’etat, the escalation of armed conflicts with the Marxist-led New People’s Army and Moro guerrillas, followed by contrived terrorist threats and spectacular challenges to the presidencies. The situation called for relying on defense secretaries who have military background that could be tapped not only for pursuing a total war policy but also as a practical presidential bridge to a military institution that had become politicized.

This made it more conducive for applying militarist solutions to what essentially would have required an all-sided social, economic and political reform. Except in the “peace process” with the fragmented Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1993, the defense establishment has pursued a policy of capitulationism in peace negotiations with the armed Left. But the military institution, which the DND is supposed to provide the policy command, has also been weakened by corruption and disillusionment particularly among junior officers.

Under Mrs. Arroyo, the post of the defense secretary has become central in extending military support to a presidential office tainted not only by corruption but more so by a credibility problem arising from allegations of electoral fraud in the 2004 presidential race. The electoral fraud was reportedly committed with the confidential support of military and police generals. Had they pushed through, the two impeachment charges filed against Mrs. Arroyo in 2005 and this year would have dragged the names of these co-conspirators and, in turn, would have further divided the military institution or fueled yet another civilian uprising.

Others see however that another civilian should replace Cruz if only because this is in line with the recommendations of the Davide and Feliciano commissions that investigated two major coups. Likewise, in the context of our highly-politicized military, the problem of massive corruption ( e.g., the retirement and pension funds mess, among others,) and the unresponsiveness of the top brass and security officials to the resumption of peace talks with the NDFP, a military person is most likely to be a captive of the existing powerful networks of interests in the military who see no urgency in addressing these problems. Thus, it is believed, it might be better to live with a civilian Arroyo-loyalist rather than a military Arroyo-loyalist, all things considered.

However, there should be no surprise if Mrs. Arroyo will appoint a military or police man to the defense post. After all, the appointee will be enlisted into a familiar territory: a cabinet packed with former generals. The president will appoint a defense chief who will carry out basically the major expectations demanded of the post. These include, making sure that the AFP and police systems remain loyal to the chief executive; a modernization program which is being implemented with the U.S. government; a “counter-terrorism” campaign which aggressively targets suspected legal and vulnerable political infrastructures of the militant mass movement and progressive political parties; and directing all such efforts under the coherent framework of U.S.-Philippine security cooperation.

The new defense chief is also expected to play a major role in supporting the concentration of political power under the chief executive and her political allies now that the congressional elections are just a few months away. In this enterprise, he – unlike Cruz – is expected to be nothing less than a team player, come hell or high water.

Likewise, he should be able to thwart further coup plots and “instabilities” supposedly fomented by disgruntled former generals and active junior officers. This pre-emptive function is to be pursued by rallying the military, police and paramilitary forces behind the counter-insurgency campaign.

And, by the way, he should also be ready to serve as the shock absorber for the president who faces an increasingly worldwide condemnation sparked by reports of extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations widely believed to be perpetrated by government security forces and “special secret missions.” Center for People Empower in Governance/Posted by (Bulatlat.com)

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