A deeply ingrained militaristic mindset

Yesterday president-in-waiting Ferdinand Marcos Jr. named Juan Ponce Enrile as his presidential legal counsel.

A key implementor during Marcos Sr.’s martial law dictatorship, Enrile figured prominently in the latter’s ouster by popular uprising in 1986. He still faces charges of plunder as former Senate president. At age 98, he is out on bail for humanitarian considerations because of his advanced age. During his fresh stint in Malacañang, he will surely be encountering Imelda Marcos, who has already been convicted for multiple corruption charges but is also out on bail for a similar consideration (she’s a bit younger than him).

Marcos Jr. also named as new solicitor general – his government’s chief lawyer – outgoing Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra; meanwhile, retired AFP chief Gen. Jose Faustino will be senior defense undersecretary pending his official assumption of the Cabinet post on Nov. 13, 2022.

Asserting himself as former defense chief, Enrile has already signaled his desire to play a key role in national security affairs. The other day, he posted on Facebook an “unsolicited advice” to the incoming administration’s national security officials, obviously directed at national security adviser-designate, the former UP professor Clarita Carlos.

Note that Carlos made a statement, soon after her nomination, for which she has been praised. She called for a stop to the Duterte government’s reckless red-tagging of activists and a wide range of progressive people’s organizations, civic organizations and religious institutions, saying that the smear tactic has been “unproductive” and “makes no sense.”

Instead, she advised that government should address the endemic problems of inequality and lack of opportunities for the poor that have fueled the more than 50 years of armed conflict with the left revolutionary forces.

Of late, Guevarra has taken a somewhat parallel view as Carlos. He cautioned red-tagging officials – mainly those of the NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict): If suspicions are all that link individuals or organizations to the armed rebellion, “then don’t say any more because you’re endangering certain people who might become targets when they are just vocal about their own political views.”

Instead, Guevarra advised the accusers to file appropriate charges in court – if they have sufficient evidence against those they have been red-tagging.

On a related matter – the Philippine National Police stance to restrict, if not ban altogether, protest actions by those perceived as “Leftists” during Marcos Jr.’s inauguration as president on June 30 – Guevarra stated:

“The right of peaceful assembly, regardless of one’s political beliefs or affiliation, is guaranteed by the Constitution, subject to reasonable regulations to maintain peace and order, including the requirement to obtain a prior permit.”

Yesterday, The Philippine STAR editorial, titled “No to red-tagging,” lamented: “Too bad [Guevarra] has only two weeks left in office, and too bad his views were apparently brushed aside by the concerned agency.”

What is Enrile driving at now? He disparaged Carlos’ stance as “making soft pacific statements seemingly intended to quiet and to gain the cooperation, trust and confidence of the habitual trouble makers in this country.” Suggesting that intelligence information be “sharpened,” he wrote: “Caution is the rule of the game. You are just starting your travel in troubled waters. Your adversaries have not stopped…[and are] biding their time.”

Premising that statement on what he considered as “credible information” which he said he just picked up, Enrile claimed that “there are groups in America and in the Philippines planning and preparing to cause serious embarrassment and trouble for our newly-elected president.”

Presumably he had undertaken a diligent verification of the information as to declare it to be credible. But he gave no details. Instead, he said, “I will give the details of this information to the proper officials of the new regime in due time.”

Quickly riding on Enrile’s Facebook post, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año (a leading member of the NTF-ELCAC, as Guevarra is also) said the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) may have the intention to “cause embarrassment” to Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“Sa ngayon, we are not privy to a specific intelligence report, but we can surmise the CPP-NPA and its cohorts are actually, (sic) have the intent to cause embarrassment to president-elect Bongbong Marcos,” Año said during a press conference at Camp Crame in Quezon City on Thursday. He tried to rationalize his statement by adding: “Kasi itong mga maka-Kaliwang grupo na ‘to, right from the start, kahit sinong umupong president, palaging ganoon ang kanilang ginagawa.”

Furthermore, Año said that while the Philippine National Police and the NTF-ELCAC have yet to validate Enrile’s claims, these agencies are prepared to cope with any emerging situation. “We will not allow any group to conduct any nefarious activities, much more to discredit the incoming administration,” he stressed.

These statements, attributed to Enrile and Año, reflect a deeply-ingrained state of mind among high government officials in charge of internal security matters – during all this time, from the Marcos dictatorship era down to the outgoing Duterte administration. It’s deeply ingrained, but regrettably it lacks depth. It’s no wonder, with such shallow thinking at the top, that our age-old problems continue to fester in this day and age.

Would it take much hard thinking to reasonably assume that such militaristic state of mind would also dominate under the incoming administration?

It would be interesting to watch, after they shall have assumed the positions to which they have been named, whether and how Guevarra and Carlos would fight for and defend the principles they have publicly stated, against their colleagues in the incoming government who cling to opposite stands.

The biggest factor they have to contend with is that during the presidential campaign, Marcos Jr. praised the NTF-ELCAC and promised to allow it to continue its widely-assailed methods in its counterinsurgency campaign.

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

Published in Philippine Star
June 18, 2022

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