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Volume 3,  Number 28              August 17 - 23, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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Cancer in the Military Establishment

By Capt. Danilo P. Vizmanos, PN (ret.)
Former AFP Inspector-General

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Mixed public reaction, from sympathy to harsh condemnation, has emerged in the aftermath of the “unusual incident” at the Oakwood Apartelle in Makati last July 27.

One’s perception of the military demonstration staged by young officers who identified themselves as the “Magdalo Group” hinges on the question: What was the real objective of the military rebels?

If it was the seizure of state power, then the rebel connection with a “trapo” camp, particularly a discredited one, doomed the project right from the start. In the absence of mass-based popular support, such a bold venture within a narrow military framework had as much changes of success as the Philippine Navy wiping out the PLA’s South China Sea Fleet in the battle of the Spratlys.

If it was a limited objective aimed at exposing the rottenness and corruption in the military hierarchy in order to arouse public opinion and gain popular support, then the young officers could have chosen a different approach. Of course this is premised on nobility of purpose based on a just cause and genuine grievances.

The Magdalo Group claimed a following of more than 2,000 military activists, an equivalent of four battalions, coming from all services. This is a very significant number for a military demonstration motivated by a just and legitimate cause. Magdalo could have concentrated this large contingent, without arms but in full uniform, for a prayer-rally either at Plaza Miranda facing Quiapo Church or in front of the Manila Cathedral. With full media coverage, the aggrieved soldiers could then come out with a litany of grievances, based on plausible and verifiable information, exposing the gamut of corruption, irregularities and anomalies committed, and still being committed, at all levels of command all the way to the uppermost strata of the logistics and comptroller divisions in GHQ and the Office of the Secretary of National Defence.

Premised on just and legitimate grievances, this unarmed and non-violent military prayer-rally could have serve as the nucleus and rallying point of rapidly expanded people’s power demonstration that could have shaken the political foundations of the stigmatized Arroyo regime.

Attempts by State authorities to suppress and stifle such a non-violent and constructive mass-based demonstration could only add fuel to the politically sensitive and volatile situation. Repressive acts by the State would have rallied the people to the just cause of the oppressed, harassed and persecuted Magdalo Group with dire consequences to the Arroyo regime.

But this concept of a non-violent mass-based military demonstration seems to have eluded the analysis and calculations of the group’s audacious leadership and supposedly sophisticated psy-ops specialists in the rebel camp.

Compare this unarmed and non-violent option with what actually happened in Oakwood. The Magdalo Group was armed to the teeth in the apartelle and premises on July 27. Yet, this surfeit of arms amounted to nothing and was unable to prevent the collapse of the military uprising in less than 24 hours. The will to struggle, despite a large number of arms, easily gave way to subtle and astute reasoning and rationalizations of State authorities. Talagang marami pang kakaning bigas ang mga bata. Di kaya ay nilunok nila ang mali at mapanlilang na payo na nanggaling kung saan man. What made matters even worse was that the armed demonstration gave legal and moral justification to the Arroyo regime to “throw the book” at the military rebels.

A Malignant Cancer

The ill-conceived demonstration may have failed, but this does not mean that the political and military leadership in Malacañang and Camp Aguinaldo can now sleep soundly.

The July 27 “incident” was merely a symptom of a malignant cancer eating away at the vitals of a terribly sick and decaying establishment. One cannot rule out the possibility that there may be greater numbers in the rank-and-file who sympathize with the rebels. It remains to be seen whether the internal rot and corruption in the establishment, as cited by the rebels, can be checked or allowed to metastasize beyond control in the days to come. A malignant tumor in the Arroyo government, as perceived by the rebels and their sympathizers, is US-backed Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes. This malignancy could well decide the fate of the Arroyo government sooner or later. Unlike Gen. Victor Corpus, the term “delicadeza” is not part of the vocabulary of  Secretary Reyes who seems to super from moral paucity.

The Marcos Legacy

If there is one single factor that has contributed most to the deterioration of discipline, morale and professionalism in the military and police organizations, it is none other than the Marcos legacy of 14 years of martial rule from 1972 to 1986.

Systematic and methodical corruption of the military hierarchy was an essential part of the Marcos strategy to maintain his control of the armed forces and assure longevity of the dictatorship.

“Power-sharing’ was also part of the political strategy as an incentive to the politically ambitious military brass who hungered for state power and a share of the loot of the people’s money. The shrewd and wily Marcos certainly knew how to bloat the ego and swell the heads of top brass opportunists.

On the issue of martial law authority and state terrorism, Marcos had no qualms in giving license to sadistic officers and men to commit human rights violation with impunity. All those engaged in counter-insurgency conflict were given a free hand to “salvage” and torture “subversives” and “enemies of the state” without fear of prosecution in any court of law.

Three classes of the Philippine Military Academy – 1970, 1971, 1972 – stand out conspicuously as the principal instruments used by Marcos in dealing with “enemies of the state” in the most brutal and ruthless manner. Among those who came from these classes are Gringo Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Victor Batac, Billy Bibit and Rodolfo Aguinaldo. These lieutenants of the 1970s have held key and prestigious position in the political establishment.

Because of this pernicious Marcos legacy, the Arroyo regime and succeeding ones are condemned to walking a tightrope as they are left with no instruction that have become liabilities instead of assets to government and society.

8 August 2003 

(Paper Distributed/Read at a Public Forum "Understanding the Oakwood Mutiny" Sponsored by BAYAN, 16 Aug. 2003 PCED Hostel UP Diliman, Quezon City)


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