The Politics of Military Intervention
Roland G. Simbulan*
Is the military a threat to democracy? Or can the military be an agent for social transformation? This is an institution that has been blamed for being interventionist during attempted coup attempts and electoral fraud but likewise has also been blamed for being passively non-interventionist for its continued support for the most unpopular commander-in-chief in recent times—Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Embroiled in a nationwide anti-insurgency war and a Muslim rebellion in the island of Mindanao since the late ’60s, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has also been factionalized by enemies from within, coming from the ranks of its most elite units and most respected combat-tested field commanders.
Samuel P. Huntington, the Harvard professor who wrote The Soldier and the State as well as other books on the role of the military in Third World countries, suggests that the propensity for military intervention increases when government institutions are weak, when strong political parties are absent and when a government’s legitimacy is put into question.
The role of the military in political transitions has always put this institution in a crucial role as either the embodiment of the apparatus of repression, or as a liberator that turns the tide in political standoffs. Misused to impose the Marcos dictatorship in 1972 that lasted for 14 years, the military’s foiled rebellion in 1986 is also what led to a people-power uprising that deposed that dictatorship. But its image nevertheless was tarnished during the dictatorship as a hatchet institution for repressive dictatorship.
Since that time, the military has become—dangerously—a highly politicized institution. This was not a healthy direction for this institution which now began to look at itself as a sector that could compete for its sectoral interests in Philippine politics and society. Military officers were assigned to manage civilian institutions in exchange for their loyalty to the dictatorship, and were given a free hand in coercing civilian agencies, including the once-independent judicial system. Many officers who figured in tortures and disappearances and played god in summary executions as documented by Amnesty International were not only left unpunished but were even promoted. This was also the case in officers involved in corruption and unexplained wealth who were left untouched. Meanwhile, soldiers who figured in the nine coup attempts against former President Cory Aquino or were implicated in the assassinations of labor leader Rolando Olalia and Bayan leader Lean Alejandro were not only pardoned but were even reintegrated and promoted.
Military organizations or factions since the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), the Young Officers Union (YOU), Soldiers of the Filipino People (a spin-off of the Nationalist Army of the People of Marcos loyalists), and now the Magdalo, are today a threat to the constitutional stability of a non-partisan military.
Historically, this institution of the armed services or profession of arms has been partisan in the suppression of peasant and workers’ movements. I have yet to see it side with workers in a labor dispute with capitalists. Or to side with peasants in their struggle for land. But can they be non-partisan in elections and refuse to be used by those in power and vested interests if they are ordered to assist in manipulating election results?
The military organization is a weapon. It is not per se a threat or danger to our nation and people. How it is used and for whom are the fundamental questions. Other than keeping the elections clean and free, and citizens safe from violence, the military should have no other role in the 2010 elections.
Is the military a threat to democracy? My answer is that it won’t be if our political system works and people trust their democratic institutions. It also won’t be if there is enough stability in the armed forces and there is a critical mass of professional soldiers who recognize the supremacy of civilian institutions.
And lastly, there is the U.S. factor. The AFP, although it named its premier military academy after the revolutionary general Gregorio del Pilar who fought the American imperialist forces, is practically an extension of the Pentagon that continues to bankroll its logistics, training, advice and strategic doctrine. Will the U.S. allow its economic and political interests to be jeopardized by an unpopular military junta, or would it prefer a functioning but elite-driven democratic government under popular leaders like Ramon Magsaysay? State security forces cannot play god nor tolerate those who do. But what if there is a failure of elections? The political system and its institutions must still function to address this through corrective measures.
There are those who are beginning to think that the military is our savior at a time of chaos, that it can move as one to take over from the discredited politicians to save us from a Hobbesian hell. But I would rather observe a debate rather than witness its suppression by people in uniform.
Those who are infatuated with military intervention are contradicting themselves in condemning generals and soldiers who allow themselves to be used for electoral partisanship. This is not the solution. The best counterfoil for this is still a strong and functioning political system. And there are elements in the AFP who aspire to be a genuine army of a sovereign nation and be a protector of the people.
* The author, a Senior Fellow of the Center for Peoples Empowerment in Governance(CenPeg), is a Full Professor in Development Studies and Public Management at the University of the Philippines.
* Article by Roland G Simbulan – For a full professional background of Professor Roland G. Simbulan (Click Here)