The number of Generals surrounding the President of the Philippines raises questions about the nature of the regime. What is the relationship between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the military, which includes all branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Philippine National Police (PNP), the leadership of which consists mainly of graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA)? Has there been a “creeping” militarization of the government, i.e. is the military now calling some, at least, of the shots or, going further, is it in effect the real center of the decision-making of the Philippine state?
BY GILL H. BOEHRINGER
Professor, Macquarie University
The number of Generals surrounding the President of the Philippines raises questions about the nature of the regime. What is the relationship between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the military, which includes all branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Philippine National Police (PNP, the leadership of which consists mainly of graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA)? Has there been a “creeping” militarization of the government, i.e. is the military now calling some, at least, of the shots or, going further, is it in effect the real center of the decision-making of the Philippine state?
Or is there simply a process operating in which the President seeks to protect her individual position by rewarding senior military officers with civilian offices after they have, at least, apparently shown loyal and faithful service? Attempting to protect her position would not be surprising given the antipathy shown toward her by junior, and some senior, officers in the several military incidents during her Presidency which have been referred to as rebellions or mutinies. And the crucial role the military has played in the past removals of Presidents, e.g. Marcos and Estrada, would surely suggest she needs to “take care of” those who might move against her next time. In the face of consistent hugely unpopular poll ratings for the corrupt, neo-liberal GMA government, many commentators believe that the President‘s continuance in office has indeed depended on the maintenance of the loyalty of “the Generals”. Patronage is an old Filipino political tradition, and Arroyo has certainly used it frequently, especially to reward civilian appointees such as in the appointments of losing candidates of her Team Unity in the election of May 2007 e.g. Ralph Recto, Tito Sotto, and Prospero Pichay. Further evidence is her recent selection of retired Admiral Tirso Danga to be head of the National Printing Office. There is a double whammy here – Danga will be in a position to assist in the manipulation of the voting if there is an election in 2010 as scheduled; and he is owed a huge debt because of his significant role in covering up the “Hello Garci” conspiracy wherein Arroyo was caught-out stealing the 2004 election.
A third possibility is that while “the Generals” certainly have considerable influence in government decision-making, they are not now acting in concert to “militarize” the regime. It seems to me the current state of the AFP, starved of funds for the “modernization” which has been signaled for some years, is indicative here. The Generals have their own motives, as well as some individual agendas. One important one is, of course, maintaining their benefactor in office against the “oppositionists”, whether in the Congress or on the streets. Further, those of them guilty of crimes in the past, are sheltered from prosecution. Another would be to ensure that Arroyo’s commitment to the destruction of the revolutionary armed forces (the New People’s Army or NPA primarily) is not watered down or abandoned by a successor; and that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) does not succeed in achieving a separate Islamic state, which necessarily would mean a new military force in the Islands and reduced jurisdiction for the AFP..
There appear to be a complicated set of processes operating in which a number of agendas operate. In my view, this is the more fruitful way of understanding what is happening in current circumstances.
Who are Arroyo’s generals and what are their positions? I have compiled a list of those who have been appointed by Arroyo in the recent past and are in the military, or not long retired. It was compiled in November 2008. Some changes have been made in February 2009 as a result of appointments made and one which has only been floated. (This last is highly significant. The President has indicated she is considering appointing the dreaded General Jovito Palparan, Jr., [ret.], sometimes referred to as The Butcher for his reign of terror in which human rights abuses piled up like firewood.).
These recent appointments have been made with a view to strengthening her position coming up to the Presidential election in 2010. Although Mrs. Arroyo cannot stand for another term under the present Constitution, there is no secret that she has been very active in encouraging her allies in the legislature, aided by other elites, to bring forth what is called Cha-cha – Charter or Constitutional change – which will transform the US-style Presidential system into a Parliamentary system. In such case, it is anticipated that she will easily have the numbers, as she presently does, to be elected Prime Minister. This is not simply a President trying to extend her term of office, it is a President who wishes to continue piling up millions in corrupt deals (largely through her husband’s machinations) but even more important, she does not want to be prosecuted by any succeeding regime for crimes committed in office. As it is, she has been able to avoid impeachment on numerous occasions by political maneuverings of her supporters in the Congress and outside. The likelihood that she would be prosecuted for a list of crimes is very strong, unless she can control, or even monopolize the succession herself.