WHOSE INTERESTS DOES THE MILITARY SERVE?
Navy Capt. Danilo Vizmanos (PN, Ret.) *
(This is an article from The Catalyst Journal of Ideas, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, October 1989 issue, pp.88-100)
When historians expound on the liberal and democratic virtues of the Great White Father in Washington, one must bear in mind that American “liberal democracy” in the Philippines literally came out of the barrel of a Krag rifle. The atrocities and human rights violations committed by U.S. troops during the Filipino-American War —- hamlet operations, free-fire zones, search-and-destroy missions, resources control, “scorched earth” policy, massacres, torture and summary executions —-antedated the Vietnam War by at least six decades.
The American conquest of the Philippines required an expeditionary force of more than 100,000 troops. It was a savage war that took a toll of 160,000 Filipinos killed in action and more than 300,000 who died of famine and other war-related causes. There were also about 7,000 American casualties of which 4,243 died in battle. These war casualties arose from predatory economic motives blurred by a facade of self-righteous rationalization to “civilize the Filipinos with a Krag. These historical facts have either been omitted or glossed over in textbooks and other reading materials in our Western-oriented educational system.
This brief historical account is necessary for a sober appreciation of what is meant by American “altruism” and ” magnanimity” especially in the light of today’s burning issues on Philippine-American relations. The transition from a colonial to a neocolonial relationship during the last 89 years did not entail any basic changes in the rules of the imperialist game. Under the colonial set-up, U.S. authorities were directly in charge of decision-making and policy formulation in Philippine domestic affairs. In the present neocolonial dispensation, they have receded in the background while local native functionaries, pejoratively known as “Amboys”, carry out their assigned tasks on cue from imperialist overlords and proconsuls.
A similar setup obtains in the military sphere. American officers were in command of native troops in the beginning. Later on, trained native officers gradually emerged to replace most of the foreign officers. When the Commonwealth government was inaugurated in 1935, the officer corps of the newly-created Philippine Army was almost entirely staffed by Filipinos. But U.S. Army officers were still running the show as military advisers and instructors. Today, U.S. armed forces personnel continue to play a major role in the development and conduct of military operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. American officers and enlisted men in the RP-U.S. Mutual Defense Board, JUSMAGPHIL, Clark Air Base, Subic Naval Base, mobile training teams and service schools in Pacific Command and CONUS (Continental U.S.) are even more active and demanding in their role as advisers and instructors in counterinsurgency warfare and the implementation of what is known as the “low intensity conflict” program.
The First Filipino Mercenaries
The initial employment of natives by U.S. military authorities dates back to Sept. 16, 1899 when Gen. Elwell Otis authorized a certain Lt. Batson of the U.S. 4th Cavalry to raise a company of 100 Macabebe scouts to undertake counter-revolutionary tasks. On October 18, 1899, Gen. Lawton was authorized to organize two additional companies, each 128 strong, and to employ them in clearing the swamps and esteros of Manila, Malabon, Navotas, and Bulacan of insurgents.
Within a year’s time, this force had increased its strength to 5,500 men and was given the title, ” The Squadron of Philippine Cavalry, U.S. Volunteers.” They were known as “Macabebe” and “Ilocos Scouts”, these being the two groups of natives from which the force was primarily made up. The cruelties and hardships inflicted by these native mercenaries upon their countrymen during the Philippine-American War, and the fact that the tortures practiced by them were accepted by the U.S. Army, are now part of the archives and literature of that war.
As a major component in the counterinsurgency campaigns, the Scouts were reorganized in 50 companies consisting of 104 men each, by an order of September 27, 1901. On the same date, the U.S. War Department discharged them from the service under the insular government, reenlisting them as members of the regular army, and paying them from U.S. army appropriations. These were the troops who were used against the remaining revolutionary forces under Gen. Miguel Malvar, Gen. Vicente Lucban, Major Macario Sakay, and Major Julian Montalan who refused to surrender to U.S. authorities after the capture of General Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela.
Meanwhile, the newly-created Civil Commission had taken over as administrator of the islands from the military government. This Commission refused to entrust to the various provinces the police protection of their own people. At the same time, it was not in favor of relying openly on the aid of U.S. troops for the preservation of peace in an officially pacified country. The myth of pacification was a disinformation peddled to the American public to placate the mounting protests against U.S. subjugation of the Filipinos.
As a solution, the Commission resorted to an already discredited expedient, the organization of a para-military native force under central control —-the Constabulary. The internal security setup today with a centralized Philippine Constabulary and Integrated National Police is a carryover of the colonial model.
The Act of July 18, 1901 provided for a Constabulary force “not exceeding 150 privates, 4 sergeants, and 8 corporals in each province.” These provincial commands were to be directed by a Chief of Constabulary and four assistant chiefs, who were referred to as “peace officers” with headquarters in Manila. Its members were authorized to make arrests without warrant when necessary and were placed under command of U.S. army officers.
The Constabulary as a paramilitary force under the insular government was distinct from the Scouts, the latter being professedly military and organized as part of the U.S. Army.
The prominent role of the Constabulary in counterinsurgency in the early 1900s, euphemistically called “bandit suppression campaigns”, brought it in direct confrontation with the revolutionary forces. They even branded leading revolutionary figures who fought against the Americans like Macario Sakay, Julian Montalan, Leon Villafuerte, Lucio de Vega and Francisco Carreon as “bandits”.
Constabulary elements played a conspicuous part in the treacherous plot of the colonial government that inveigled Macario Sakay into surrendering to the authorities. Sakay was made to believe that his surrender would hasten the convening of a national assembly to be composed of Filipinos. He also got the impression that no harm would come to his person or that of his men.
Sakay and his senior officers surrendered in Manila in July 1906 through an intermediary with an assurance that they would not be molested by the authorities. Instead, they found themselves victims of a double cross. Taking advantage of the presence of Sakay and his associates at a dance given in their honor in Cavite’s Dreamland dance hall, American intelligence agents and Constabulary troops surrounded Sakay and his men, quickly disarmed them, and placed them under arrest. Sakay and De Vega were executed by hanging in September 1907 for the crime of “banditry”. On the death platform, Sakay was reported to have protested until the last moment that he was not guilty of banditry. He insisted that he fought the Americans for the cause of Philippine independence.
Army and constabulary counterinsurgency forces also carried out a campaign of “reconcentration” (forced evacuation and hamletting), affecting hundreds of thousands of civilians in the following provinces:
Province Year Persons Affected
Batangas 1902 100,000
Albay 1903 300,000
Tayabas (Quezon) 1903 15,000
Cavite 1904 16,000
Samar 1904 20,000
These are substantial figures when one considers that the total population of the Philippines at that time was only 3,921,000.
As expected, official historical narratives of the Constabulary are confined to creditable and honorable achievements of the organization. They do not mention, for example, that former members of the oppressive and notorious Spanish Guardia Civil were also enlisted in the Constabulary.
The Constabulary also played a leading role in the suppression of peasant uprisings in the 1930s such as the Tayug Uprising in Pangasinan in 1931, the Sakdal movement in 1935 led by Benigno Ramos, and the civil disobedience demonstrations of the General Workers Union (AMT) and Katipunang Pambansa ng mga Magsasaka sa Pilipinas (KPMP). These organizations and their leaders were branded as “subversives” and “outlaws” by he Constabulary. In reality, they were peasant rebellions which arose from legitimate grievances and unresolved agrarian problems. In retrospect, nothing has changed in the handling of agrarian and labor unrest by military authorities during the last 50 years.
The Evolution of the AFP
The Armed Forces of the Philippines used to celebrate its anniversary on December 21, the date of the enactment of the National Defense Act in 1935 creating the Philippine Army. But a few years ago it decided to change the date to March 22. The purpose was to project a nationalist and revolutionary image of the AFP by establishing a linkage between today’s armed forces and the revolutionary army under Gen. Aguinaldo. It was on March 22, 1897 that the revolutionary army of the First Republic was formally established at the Tejeros Convention.
But historical facts can withstand only so much stretching and twisting. Historical records reveal that the forerunner of the AFP was not the revolutionary army of Aguinaldo, but the National Police Force which was created by the U.S. colonial regime on August 8, 1901, under the command of a U.S. Army captain named Henry T. Allen. This organization was later renamed the Constabulary. In turn, the Constabulary evolved into the Philippine Army when most of its officers and men were absorbed by the latter upon approval on December 21, 1935 of the National Defense Act. After World War II, the Philippine Army became a major service of the newly-created National Defense Forces, later renamed the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The only linkage between Aguinaldo’s revolutionary army and the forerunner of the AFP was, ironically, antagonistic in nature. As previously mentioned, it was the Constabulary that carried out counterinsurgency and suppression operations against the revolutionary forces of Gen. Malvar and Major Sakay who refused to surrender to U.S. colonial authorities after the capture of Aguinaldo in Palanan.
A Crisis of Identity
One is tempted to blame the Marcos dictatorship and the continuing machinations and intrigues of Marcos loyalists, mainly, for the continuing and worsening crisis that plagues the AFP today. This is a rationalization that fails to recognize the roots of the problem.
What bedevils the military organization and individual soldier today is essentially a crisis of identity. Other contributory factors are ancillary and peripheral to this central issue.
The fact of the matter is that among the various components of government, the AFP is the most dependent and beholden to the U.S. power elite for its continued existence and operating capability. It is this inordinate dependence on the U.S. and the attendant servility of the armed forces of a supposedly independent nation that seriously affects the innermost recesses of a soldier’s mentality. The result is a warped sense of loyalty that features a strong colonial bias which invariable comes in conflict with the interests of the Filipino people. It expresses and manifests itself in various concrete situations.
Officers and men of the armed forces are sworn to protect and defend the Constitution. But this is attenuated by a sense of utang na loob that accompanies every delivery of U.S. military hardware and training opportunity in U.S. service schools. Consciously or subconsciously, this sense of gratitude permeates the mentality of Filipino soldiers.
Where there is a conflict of interest between the U.S. ruling elite and the Filipino people, the tendency is for the Filipino soldier to be more considerate of the former at the expense of the latter. Witness the treatment of underpaid and exploited Filipino workers at the picket lines during labor disputes with U.S. and multinational companies; the hardline policy against Filipino demonstrators at the U.S. Embassy, Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base; or the protection given to U.S. nationals and their properties in contrast to the wanton demolition of homes and shanties of landless urban poor by police and military elements.
It is ironic and regrettable that while the soldiers come from the masses, they tend to regard members of the privileged minority as more deserving of protection and respect than their own kind. Thus, rallies and public protests led by political and social personalities are treated with deference while another group composed of farmers, workers and urban poor are fair game for military and police sharpshooters and snipers.
Rebel troopers who committed overt acts of sedition and rebellion in Manila Hotel and GMA-7 are extended the amenities of “honorable treatment and due process of law”, while suspected “subversives” are readily subjected to third-degree torture in safehouses or “salvaged” peremptorily.
The crisis of identity afflicting the members of the AFP is a logical outgrowth of the colonial history and neocolonial development of the armed forces as an institution. The Marcos dictatorship merely accentuated, vulgarized, and rammed into the public consciousness the enlarged role of the military in civilian affairs under such innocuous-sounding titles as “civil relations”, “civic action”, “psychological operations”, “resources control”, and “relocation and rehabilitation” projects.
As was the case in other Third World client states, the term “constitutional authoritarianism” was applied as a veneer to dictatorial rule and militarization of society. The obtrusive role of the military in state and civil affairs was finally given formal and official blessing by the Reagan administration as an integral part of what is now known as the “low intensity conflict” or “LIC” doctrine.
Low Intensity Conflict
“Low intensity conflict” is a euphemistic expression of the divide-and-rule strategy of the Washington power elite to perpetuate U.S. hegemony on a global basis with particular emphasis on developing countries of the Third World.
Under this doctrine, the “anti-communist” line serves as the justification for the creation and manipulation of practically all kinds of anti-Left organization, association, private army, paramilitary force and fanatical armed group in the country today. The most controversial are the Alsa Masa and Nakasaka. Contrary to official pronouncements from government spokesmen, these are not voluntary associations for purposes of “self-defense”, but creations of legal and clandestine agencies of the Philippine and U.S. governments to be used against popular movements and those who oppose the established political and social order. They are provided the necessary financial and material support through the LIC program via official as well as non-official conduits. The Pentagon, National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, State Department, and their local counterparts and surrogates play key roles in the implementation of the LIC program through “inter-agency committees and task forces.”
While the main arena of LIC are the developing countries, its main target is the American public. It is an instrument of deception and psychological operations whose objective is to break down the American people’s commitment to anti-intervention that emerged from the Vietnam War experience. Today, U.S. citizens are being incited to a debased patriotism that feeds on feelings of international victimization by “faceless guerrillas and terrorists of assorted colors.” This brand of patriotism conveniently ignores the reality of U.S. imperial politics and economics.
Negotiations do not have an honorable place in LIC doctrine. A negotiated peace is generally regarded as an unhonorable arrangement that makes shameful accommodations with enemy forces. Negotiations are pursued only when the U.S. and its surrogates have gained the upper hand through the imposition of superior force.
Unsurprisingly, the LIC doctrine suffers a basic flaw. Its major weakness is its narrow and self-serving interpretation of international events. Its undue emphasis on the East-West conflict fails to recognize basic internal contradictions in Third World countries and societies which spawn indigenous armed struggle and give vent to strong anti-U.S. sentiment.
LIC is presented as a crusade for freedom and democracy when in reality it is a defensive reaction in a milieu where oppressed and exploited people are demanding and fighting for self-determination, just social systems and structures, and an end to U.S. imperial control.
LIC divorces political violence from social causes and instead relates it to “communist subversion”. It ignores history by assuming that superior levels of violence in the form of counter-terrorist raids, surgical strikes, and U.S. backed counterinsurgency operations can crush subversion and rebellion while deep-rooted social problems remain unresolved.
The Philippines has become the latest proving grounds for the field testing of the LIC doctrine. Government and non-governmental agencies are being mobilized throughout the country in response to the carrot-and-stick prodding from Washington. As was the case in Vietnam more than two decades ago and in El Salvador today, primary emphasis is given to a military solution which fails to address the root causes of massive poverty, social injustice, and the expanding insurgency.
It is not because the ruling classes in the Philippines and the United States do not know the root causes of the national malaise. They know it but refuse to do something about it because of the inherent contradictions and clash of interests between them and the massive poor and dispossessed in our society.
The architects of the LIC doctrine have refused to accept the demonstrated fact that the spreading social unrest and expanding insurgency are caused by people who are claiming the right to the satisfaction of basic needs. Instead, they have interpreted instability and insurgency as an indicator of “communist subversion” and “Soviet expansionism” within the stereotyped framework of East-West conflict. But if social science can be of any service to policy makers, it is to point out when changing circumstances have made familiar formulas obsolete. The Philippines will enjoy neither peace nor stability until the basic needs of the people are met by fundamental restructuring of privilege. This is the reality that must be faced.
Low Intensity Conflict vs. People’s War
As mentioned earlier, the basic flaw of LIC doctrine is its self-serving interpretation of international events which gives undue emphasis to the East-West conflict and “communist subversion”. It glosses over and pays lip service to a people’s just struggle for self-determination and fundamental changes in the oppressive and exploitative socio-economic structures and systems in developing countries.
In a nutshell, LIC is the U.S. power elite’s exercise in real politik for checking the surging revolutionary tide in order to maintain the status quo. This world outlook collides head-on with the indisputable fact that the only thing permanent in this world is change.
A nation where 80% of the population live below the poverty line while no more than 3%, in connivance with foreign vested interests, enjoy a virtual monopoly of the means of production will have to undergo inevitable change, most likely, the violent type. This iron law of history has consistently expressed itself in the continuing struggle of mankind that includes such profound historical changes as the English Magna Carta, the American and French bourgeois revolutions, the Russian and Chinese proletarian revolutions, and the national liberation wars of former colonial countries like Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, etc..
The most that advocates of the status quo can achieve is to borrow a little time or to trade space for time. But change, specifically revolutionary change,is inevitable and those who stubbornly believe that they can roll back the surging tide may not even be aware that they are living on borrowed time.
Revolutionaries contend that “people’s war” is the response of the dispossessed, disenfranchised, and the “wretched of the earth” against LIC and counterinsurgency doctrine. They consider reforms as sops and placebos which are intended to placate social unrest without changing social structures and relations of production.
The embryo of people’s war was formed more than a hundred years ago when the French proletariat expelled the forces of the ruling elite from the capital and established the Paris Commune in 1871. Although shortlived, the Paris Commune became the laboratory and proving ground for future proletarian revolutions.
Any war whether it be conventional or unconventional, limited or special, colonial or revolutionary guerrilla war,is merely an extension of politics. The famous German military theoretician, Karl von Clausewitz, expressed it very succinctly: “Policy is the intelligent faculty, war only the instrument, not the reverse. The subordination of the military view to the political is therefore, the only thing possible.”
This is the essence of what distinguishes LIC from people’s power. In the Philippine setting, the political goals of the Filipino people — national sovereignty, genuine people’s democracy, economic emancipation, and social justice — are subordinated to the strategic and self-serving aims of its local civil and military surrogates. This is the root cause of the crisis of identity that besets the Filipino soldier today.
If members of the military establishment, especially those at the hierarchy, suffer from paranoia and suspect every other Filipino as a “subversive”, it is because what they are fighting for are diametrically opposed to the nationalist and democratic aspirations of the Filipino people. If AFP generals and ranking officers have a tendency to suspect a “leftist” lurking under every bed, it is because of a conditioned reflex to the incantations of anti-communist propaganda from the Pentagon, CIA, USIA, US Embassy, and various ultra-reactionary and witch-hunting organizations whose aims run counter to the yearnings and hopes of the Filipino masses.
On the other hand, how does one explain not only the survivability but also the tenacity and prolificacy of the rebel forces? It can only be in terms of a “just cause.” Without a just cause, rebel fighters became nothing more than bandits and brigands.
There is nothing mystic about this thing called “just cause”. In concrete terms, one can easily understand it by going over the program of action of the National Democratic Front and its equivalent in the Moro National Liberation Front and Cordillera People’s Democratic Front. It is simply a statement of purpose which, the revolutionaries contend, is the answer to the question of the masses on how to put an end to their wretchedness and marginalized existence in the present society.
A major handicap of the AFP is that it is fighting for a privileged establishment that does not have a political and social program worth mentioning. If ever there is, it does not reflect the interests of the masses except in the form of platitudes and sugar-coated “motherhood” phrases. What is worse is that it invariably promotes the interests of foreign and local vested-interest groups.
The frequent setbacks and reverses suffered by government forces in its counterinsurgency campaigns cannot be explained merely in terms of military strategy and tactics or deficiency in logistics. Yet, there is much to be said on these matters.
To begin with, the AFP is a conventional army that has been organized, trained, and equipped for conventional war. Its model and sources of equipment, armament, training manuals, doctrines and operating procedures is the “special war.” Except for a smattering of some “limited and special war” theories, the U.S. army is basically a conventional army geared for conventional war.
It is, therefore, inappropriate and presumptuous for such an army to advise and train Filipino soldiers on the art and science of unconventional war which it had failed to win in Vietnam in the first place. Revolutionary guerrilla war which the NPA and BMA have been waging for years is something much more than modern weapons and advanced technology.
U.S. Marine Gen. Samuel expressed it in a most profound way. “Guerrilla war is not dependent for success on the efficient operation of complex mechanical devices, highly organized logistical systems, or the accuracy of electronic computers. It can be conducted in any terrain, in any climate, in any weather, in swamps, in mountains, in farmed fields. Its basic element is man, and man is more complex than any of its machines.”
Through the mass media, we have always read and seen how helicopter gunships, Tora-Tora aircraft, and even F-5 supersonic jets are being employed against the rebels. Extravagant claims on rebel casualties resulting from air attack have been announced repeatedly to the public by the armed forces public information officer. More than six decades ago, the famous British officer, T.E. Lawrence of Arabia, gave this very astute observation which is still relevant today: “Air power may be effective against elaborate armies, but against irregulars it has no more than moral value.” The experience of American air power in the Vietnam War confirms this observation.
Nothing beats Hollywood in glorifying and projecting a bigger-than life image of U.S. paramilitary forces such as the Green Berets and Rambo. But there is a wide gap that separates these action film heroes from ordinary mortals engaged in the grim and deadly business of fighting a guerrilla war.
Robert Taber’s “War of the Flea” gives a sober and down-to-earth account of those engaged in the grim and deadly business of fighting a guerrilla war:
“Can guerrilla tactics be employed successfully against guerrillas? The answer is no! Indian fighters do not become Indians by taking scalps; a spotted jungle suit does not make a U.S. Marine a guerrilla.”
“Fundamentally, the guerrilla’s tactics and those of the counter-insurgent differ because their roles differ. The counter-insurgent seeks a military solution — to wipe out the guerrillas. But he is hampered by a political and economic impediment: he cannot wipe out the populace….”
“The guerrilla, for his part, wishes to wear down his military opponent and will employ suitable tactics to that end, but his primary objective is political. It is to feed and fan the fires of revolution by his struggle to raise the entire population against the regime, to discredit it, wreck its credit, undermine its economy, overextend its resources, and cause its disintegration.”
Those with nostalgic feelings for a return to the “tested and successful” strategy of former Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay and Col. Edward Lansdale against the PKP/HMB arein effect admitting that the whole range of doctrines, strategy, tactics, and operating procedures of the AFP against the New People’s Army have not produced the desired results. But there are still many officers in the military hierarchy who believe that the success of Magsaysay and Lansdale can be duplicated by the U.S.-supported Aquino government and its armed forces. This is a tall order that seems to ignore pronounced differences in objective and subjective conditions between the Magsaysay era and the present. Consider the following:
* The level of political consciousness of the people today is relatively higher than it was in the early 1950s.
* The scope of military and political activities and extent of popular support for the NDF are more extensive and intensive than what was achieved by the PKP/HMB.
* So far, the NDF leadership has been able to avoid irreparable errors and blunders in its major decisions and policies compared to the grave ideological and operational mistakes committed by the PKP/HMB leadership. Ideological, political and operational infractions and deviations have been dealt with appropriately through rectification campaigns.
* The economic and social conditions today are worse than in the late 1940s and early 1950s in terms of mass poverty, chronic unemployment, inequitable distribution of wealth, social injustice and human rights violations. The basic contradictions in Philippine society today are more pronounced than during the Magsaysay period.
* The military establishment today is faced with serious internal problems of morale, discipline and management which were minimal during the post-World War II period.
* The people’s perception of the U.S. as “liberator” of the Filipino people in the post-war years has changed. It now carries the figure of exploiter of Third World countries and an enemy of world peace because of its bellicose attitude, continuous saber rattling and brinkmanship, unabashed support of oppressive regimes, advocacy of the employment of nuclear weapons, and repeated preemptive strikes against perceived enemies.
* The rising political awareness of the Filipino people and worsening domestic problems that spawn insurgency have seriously diminished the options of the ruling class into resorting to more drastic military measures in lieu of non-violent remedies which were effective in the past.
The collapse of the peace talks has brought about a pronounced escalation of hostilities. The AFP is expected to throw everything it has against the rebel forces including the latest counterinsurgency weapons from the U.S. arsenal. The intensification of hostilities will require much greater inputs into the military machine. The U.S. will try to deliver more military hardware although this will be subject to the limitations imposed by its political processes and disposable economic resources.
The bigger question is the ability of the Philippine government to provide the gargantuan requirements demanded by an escalation of hostilities in an open-ended protracted war. Any funds and resources that enter the military sinkhole means a corresponding deprivation of badly needed inputs for the socio-economic component such as education, health, housing, public works, social services, and job-generating projects. The trend is for non-productive and even self-destructive military expenditures to gobble up the precious funds badly needed for the country’s economic and social development.
Furthermore, an intensification of military activities inevitably leads to an upsurge of human rights violations. In turn, this fans the flames of animosity and hatred among the people against the military. Miserable economic and social conditions compounded by an escalation of human rights violations is a sure-fire formula for an expansion of people’s war.
Despite Clausewitz’ dictum on “war as merely an extension of politics,” most military authorities cannot see beyond the narrow confines of purely military operations and implications. Their concept of national security is primarily equated with supersonic aircraft, warships, tanks, guided missiles, etc.. It is “machine-oriented.”
What is needed in the country today are political and military leaders capable of defining “national security” as something more than just military hardware and availability of military funds. We need more people in the military whose concept of a genuine deterrent force is one that is “people-oriented,” not “machine-oriented.”
If the AFP is to contribute to national progress and security in its broadest sense, our leaders must declare and observe a moratorium on further increases in the military budget. This must be correlated with serious efforts to achieve peace through a negotiated settlement with the NDF and MNLF. It is folly for an underdeveloped country to pursue a policy of pouring precious funds into “avoidable” military spending at the expense of the economic and social programs essential to the growth of a developing economy.
The argument that retrenchment in defense spending will adversely affect our national security does not stand on firm ground. National security does not necessarily mean a large standing army or even a “modernized” one. National security rests primarily on the will of the people and the breadth and depth of our economic and social structures and achievements. The maintenance of expensive armed forces ontop of a fragile economy does not fall within the correct definition of national security. This was proven by the Marcos dictatorship itself. It increased the size of the armed forces considerably, thinking that sheer quantity of combat troops would wipe out or at least arrest the growth of the rebel forces. Instead, it produced the opposite results. Yet it seems that the military hierarchy has never learned any lesson at all. They are clamoring once again for an increase in the appropriations and strength of the AFP. One characteristic of the military mind is its imperviousness to rationality.
The national defense objective, asspelled out in the National Defense Act is to ensure effective sovereignty over the national territory and provide a credible deterrent against external aggression. This is a challenging task for an underdeveloped country. It follows that the Philippines cannot just imitate and adopt the defense measures of other countries, especially those that are economically advanced.
What is needed in consideration of the particular conditions of the country is a national defense concept based on the dictum: ” Professional standing armies do not always suffice to save a nation. It is a country defended by the people that is invincible.”
This calls for the development of a genuine citizen army premised on the termination of the so-called “special relations” between the Philippines and the United States. This includes the abrogation of existing RP-U.S. military and economic agreements which have reduced our country to the status of a neo-colonial dependency. It is this neo-colonial relationship that inhibits our ability to defend ourselves. Restrictions and limitations imposed on our government through one-sided agreements with the U.S. perpetuates our industrial underdevelopment which prevents the realization of a self-reliant defense force.
The sine qua non to a genuine citizen army is the nationalist orientation and political consciousness of a new breed of Filipino soldiers. Political consciousness does not mean partisan or ward politics. It refers to a high plane of awareness of the proper role of the citizen in the promotion and upholding of the interests and welfare of the Filipino people, especially the broad masses, in contrast to the vested interests of foreigners and their local surrogates.
The nationalist and pro-people orientation will also help solve the festering problem of local insurgency because the people will recognize the national army as their army and not an instrumentality of foreign and local vested-interest groups.
The development of a nationalist orientation will call for drastic changes in the education and training of the citizen-soldier. A reorientation along popular and nationalist lines will be necessary. It may even call for the transformation of the elitist Philippine Military Academy into a mass-based military training center.
Arms and equipment for the citizen army need not be the sophisticated type used in the U.S. armed forces. Weapons and equipment applicable to both conventional and irregular warfare should be given high priority in research, development, and production of military hardware.
A large regular army that is very expensive to maintain and which is highly dependent on a foreign country for its armament and major equipment only gives us a false sense of security. This kind of an army inevitably becomes the neo-colonial instrument of a foreign power in dominating and exploiting the country it is supposed to help.
The answer to our defense requirements is a well-trained, adequately equipped, nationalist-oriented, highly dedicated, and self-reliant citizen army backed up by popular support and a nationally industrialized economy. This is the most formidable deterrent against external aggression.
The citizen army shall be composed mainly of reserve ground forces built around a small nucleus of regular troops. The ground forces must be capable of engaging the enemy in both conventional and unconventional warfare with naval and air components providing tactical support and mobility.
Employing a flexible defense strategy including protracted people’s war, the citizen army can “bleed the enemy white” and raise the human and material cost of aggression beyond acceptable limits. It is an invincible people’s army that cannot be defeated and conquered by any potential aggressor.
Options at the Crossroads
The transition from the Marcos dictatorship to the Aquino “liberal-democratic” government has been a change more in appearance than substance. The neo-colonial relationship between the Philippines and the United States remains intact. Feudal relations in the rural regions and domination of the national economy by foreign monopoly capital continue to be the hallmark of the present dispensation. In implementing the LIC doctrine and counterinsurgency program, the AFP is in effect trying to perpetuate the decadent structures and systems of oppression and exploitation which have impoverished and dehumanized the broad Filipino masses.
The class character of the ruling authorities has place them in direct confrontation with the masses. Except for their role as overseers and caretakers of U.S. strategic and economic interests in the country, the ruling elite are in no position to meet the demands of the marginalized majority of the population. Unable to rule in the old way, the ruling authorities have to resort to the use of force in order to maintain the status quo.
Is there a way out of what seems to be an insoluble crisis?
Foreign-sponsored solutions such as the LIC formula is no solution at all. It only provokes reaction and counter-measures leading to an escalation of armed hostilities and unnecessary loss of Filipino lives without moving the country an inch closer to peace and prosperity.
The only way out of this unfolding national tragedy is for Filipinos in general, and members of the AFP in particular, to assert their national identity and accept the reality that Filipinos and only Filipinos can solve the nation’s enormous problems. For the last forty years, we have labored under the illusion that “foreign assistance and guidance” is the key to national security, progress, and prosperity. By now, we should have acquired enough wisdom to know that our saviors are none other than ourselves; that if we have degenerated into a nation of paupers and mendicants, it is because most of the wounds of our body and spirit have been self-inflicted.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines play a crucial role in the shaping of our nation’s future and destiny. It can take either of two main options:
1. It can continue with its present state of inordinate dependence on a foreign power which means the perpetuation of our underdevelopment as a neo-colonial dependency.
2. It can transform itself into a genuine army of the people by asserting its national identity and living up to the ideals for which the martyrs of our continuing revolution have suffered and given up their lives.
* The author, Capt. Danilo Vizmanos (PN Ret.), is former Armed Forces of the Philippines Inspector General in General Headquarters (GHQ), Camp Aguinaldo, and former Chief of Staff of the Philippine Coast Guard. He taught at the AFP Command and General Staff College. He graduated at the top of his class in the Naval Command and Staff School, as well as in the U.S. Navy Anti-Submarine Warfare Course in San Diego, California.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in April 27th 2011