Is the military restless?
If we are to go by the Mr. Duterte’s public pronouncements and the subsequent clarifications by his people, the answer is yes. The men and women in uniform are agitated, but not necessarily for the reasons he stated.
In his remarks after holding talks with the three presumptive bets for the House speakership, Mr. Duterte said he needed the House to be quickly in order because of the urgent need to amend the 1987 Constitution to avoid an uprising by the military, which, according to Mr. Duterte, was “really hot on it.”
A rough English translation of Mr. Duterte’s mix of Tagalog and English remarks reads: “I said, ‘If you want to change the Constitution, do it now. I am still here.’ And I can tell the military, ‘No, no, no. You better… Because tempers are rising in the military. And I have told you all the corruption in the government, its worse in the higher positions.”
As is usual with Mr. Duterte’s often elliptical and garbled stream of consciousness pronouncements he did not clearly elaborate on what he exactly meant.
Mr. Duterte’s mouthpiece Salvador Panelo subsequently explained Mr. Duterte’s explosive remarks about the military’s supposed intentions about giving the jackboot to this administration.
Panelo speculated the military brass may have told Mr. Duterte of the growing dissatisfaction among troops even if both military and the police publicly assured there were no plans to oust Mr. Duterte.
Last Tuesday, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson reassured the public with the usual and appropriate statement the military “shall remain loyal to the flag, to the Constitution, and to the Filipino people.”
Panelo, however, could not adequately explain what the military wanted. “It is not clear what changes in the Charter are being proposed to specifically solve corruption, drugs, terrorism and other problems supposedly raised by the military. When asked about it Panelo gave two unrelated examples: the removal of restrictions to foreign investment, and the solution to EDSA traffic…” as one news report had it.
Nonetheless, in other news reports Panelo said “the premise there, under the Consitution the AFP is the protector of the people. So, if the military knows there are anomalies and corruption… they react, why is it like that?”
In all of the above, it is obvious the Palace wants us to believe that whatever is agitating the military it is about pressing domestic concerns like corruption.
In a sense there is some truth to this assertion as the military often did express concern over domestic issues and did something about it.
Recent history bears out this assertion as the Reform the Armed Forces (RAM) in the Marcos years, the Young Officers Union (YOU) in the Cory Aquino and Ramos years, and the Magdalo in the Arroyo years had the unmistakable stamp of expressing domestic concerns, not only about corruption but also whether or not the military should grab political power in face of those concerns.
Panelo is also correct to emphasize the constitutional provision stating the AFP is “the protector of the people,” a key phrase which has defined the military’s relations with civilian government.
Article II, section 3 of the Constitution reads: “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of the national territory.”
Much have been made out of this constitutional phrase “the protector of the people and the State” ever since the ouster of Marcos. The provision led to many an acrimonious debate on what is the military’s exact role in the country’s politics were and whether or not the provision led dangerously to military adventurism.
The debates quieted down in recent years owing to the singular fact the previous governments have started modernizing the military. The military modernization program is preoccupying the military as recent as yesterday.
Our recent times, however, and in particular in face of the geo-political troubles in the West Philippine Sea, brought to the fore the other important provision that the military is “to secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of the national territory.”
It is quite obvious the Palace did not want to stray into that explosive provision or acknowledge it as another reason for the military’s supposed restlessness.
One can see many reasons for this, but one pronounced reason is Mr. Duterte’s view any military assertion in the West Philippine Sea is hopeless and a useless sacrifice of soldiers’ lives.
But there are indications, all done in private and not publicly, the military is not at all happy about the civilian leadership’s seemingly lack of resolve, at the moment, in asserting constitutional provisions about protecting resources in the contested seas.
If anything, the recent incident involving Filipino fishermen left to drown in the Recto Bank showed where the military stood. Immediately after the incident came to light the military brass immediately condemned the incident in no uncertain terms. It was only after Mr. Duterte broke his prolonged silence on the matter that the military moderated its reactions.
At any rate, I must express caution here as this is still a quick take on what has been publicly said so far on the issue. There is still the matter of what in the journalist trade is called access journalism, which means making sources involved in the issue talk. In this case, reticent soldiers who still loathe having their view made public.
So, as we anxiously await what soldiers really say of their wants, what I have just said can still turn out naively inappropriate and even untrue. Still, this does prevent us from making a momentary conclusion that Mr. Duterte is playing a game of chess with the military. And whatever comes out of that game will have a tremendous impact on all of us.