Saturday, March 6, 2010

A professor’s journey*

(* Delivered at a symposium sponsored by the Third World Studies Center, 4 March 2010, email forwarded by Mr. Herman Tiu Laurel)

Professor Emeritus
University of the Philippines

In a short essay published by Inquirer the other Sunday, Gen. Danilo Lim traced his “journey” from a West Point educated officer to a rebel soldier and a political prisoner. Today I shall match his story with the story of my own journey from rabid anti-militarism to an avid supporter of Gen. Lim.

    My narrative starts from the Manila Hotel where, soon after EDSA 1, the Marcos loyalists gathered to clamor for the enthronement of Arturo Tolentino. Having learned from a very reliable source that some of the RAM boys participated in planning that comic affair, I went around frantically warning of an insidious plot from the politicized soldiery or what I termed the “politicians in uniform.”

    That paranoid response stemmed from the assumption that by the nature of their profession, soldiers are essentially reactionary and authoritarian; they should therefore be kept on leash, banished from politics and placed under firm civilian control.

    I began to change my mind when, in connection with a research project for the UN University on “the politicization of the military and the militarization of politics,” I studied several military coups in other parts of the world. I came across instances when the military played a definitely positive role of overthrowing right-wing dictatorships and setting in motion the process of system change.

    To illustrate, let me cite the “carnation revolution” in Portugal. Portuguese fascism was the oldest in Europe, antedating Mussolini, Hitler and Franco. Antonio de Oliviera Salazar founded the first fascist state in 1926. He was ruthless but was more subdued than Hitler and Mussolini. The Salazar regime survived World War II because with the outbreak of the Cold War the United States – the self-appointed champion of the “free world” – coddled it as an ally against communism.

After 42 years in power, the Portuguese tyrant died in 1968; but before going into a coma he was able to arrange a smooth transition to handpicked successors. So well entrenched did the successor regime appear to be that political scientists specializing in the study of Portugal did not expect it to fall any time soon. Yet in April 1974 it collapsed like the proverbial colossus with feet of clay.

This event known as the “carnation revolution” caught the Portugal watchers by surprise because, trapped in the conventional paradigm of political science, they only monitored the puny resistance of the liberal and social democratic parties. They completely overlooked the undercurrents in the armed forces, believing that the military would always be a bastion of fascist rule. As it turned out, it was a military group that crushed the backbone of fascism in Portugal.

The experts were oblivious of the fact that the junior officers, fresh from the African campaigns, had been radicalized by their own experience in the battlefield. They realized that they were duped to fight an unjust war by a government that was also oppressing the Portuguese people themselves. Back in Lisbon, they formed a secret society called Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA) and in April 1974 they launched a coup against the dictatorship.

The MFA junta (known as the Junta for National Salvation) adopted a socialist program and released from colonial rule not only the Portuguese colonies in Africa, but also East Timor, a somnolent territory where there was no pre-existing independence movement. Unfortunately, the progressive military regime lasted only for two years. Unlike Col. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the MFA did not build a mass base for its radical reforms. Moreover, they didn’t know how to govern: they mismanaged the economy and were clumsy in the conduct of international diplomacy. Their ineptitude created an opening for the deposed elite to instigate a counter-coup in collaboration with the CIA.

    With such cases in mind, my monograph on the politics of the military already reflected my growing ambivalence. Coincidentally, I presented the monograph to a UN University seminar in Katmandu on the eve of the 1989 coup in Manila. When this erupted, I could not make up my mind. I had lost enthusiasm for Cory Aquino but neither could I be enthusiastic about the coup. I faulted Cory for restoring the old system of elite rule, an oligarchy masquerading as democratic. But the alternative was not alluring. There was a strong suspicion that the coup aimed to install Ponce Enrile and Salvador Laurel; in other words, another reshuffle of personnel at the top that would leave the system of elite rule intact.

    Danny Lim, then a captain of the Scout Rangers, took part in that coup as leader of the Young Officers Union. I did not have the slightest idea of what vision inspired. It was only when he got out of detention that I met him through Haydee Yorac. Our long conversations convinced me that the YOU resembled the MFA of Portugal, that it represented a trend whose political outlook was not too different from mine.
Let me summarize the insights drawn from my studies on the military in the process of social change.

    There never was an instance in the history of any country when a repressive regime was brought down through purely civilian action or “people power.” Regime change through extra-constitutional means invariably involves a military component. Three possible scenarios can be considered in the Philippine context: (1) the military as a whole turns against the regime, as happened in EDSA 2; (2) part of the military breaks with the chain of command and joins the insurgent citizenry, as in EDSA 1; and (3) the mass movement builds its own army and, through protracted war, beats the government armed forces, as Joma has been dreaming over the last four decades.

    At the Katmandu seminar, an Indian scholar reproached me for ignoring the case of India where, he said, national liberation was achieved through non-violence in a purely civilian struggle. In fact, I studied that as well. But my study of the Indian case led me to believe that Gandhi’s satyagraha could not have succeeded were it not for a threat of a violent upheaval. The British conceded to the Mahatma’s demands whenever he went on hunger strike because the alternative to Gandhi was Subhas Chandra Bose, a stern advocate of violent revolution. Were it not for the prospect of Subhas Chandra Bose seizing the leadership of the independence movement, the British might have allowed what Winston Churchill described as a “half-naked fakir” to fast himself to death. Later events confirmed this hypothesis. Once the murder of Gandhi removed his restraining moral authority, the Hindus and Indian Moslems immediately embarked on the worst carnage in history.

    It is wrong to view the Philippine military as one solid bloc. All assurances from the office of Col. Brawner that everything is under control cannot conceal the widespread restlessness among the Filipino soldiers today. True, most generals belong to the conventional mold. They peddle the myth of political neutrality. In truth, the Philippine military has always been politically involved . . . on the side of the power elite, against the peasant movements and the militant trade unions. The predecessors of the AFP were the Filipino mercenaries recruited by the Americans to suppress their compatriots.

    For circumstances too complex to analyze here, a new trend has emerged in the uniformed services. There is a growing network of thinking soldiers who do not blindly obey orders from above. Unlike Tennyson’s foolish light brigade who meekly marched to the jaws of death, believing that their’s is not to reason why but simply to do or die, the thinking Filipino soldiers ask whether the orders are legitimate and moral, and they always stand for what is true, just and right.**

    I will leave it for Gen. Danny Lim to explain how this came about. Just allow me to express a view which he might not like to hear: that his election to the Senate will not in itself make a difference to the future of our country for as long as the system of elite rule prevails. He will be a solitary voice in an elite-dominated and trapo-infested legislature. I have no illusion that he will succeed in passing laws to institutionalize fundamental reforms. But even if such a miracle does happen, the laws he sponsors will be diluted by the President through his/her power to set the implementing rules and his/her control over the release of funds. Ultimately these laws will be perverted by a bureaucracy that is susceptible to elite and American pressures.

    Nonetheless, I will vote for Gen. Lim because he represents a force that, in tandem with the militant mass movement, opens up the prospect for a just and progressive society our people deserve. A vote for him is a slap on the faces of the trapos and the crooked generals who keep him in prison. Sa paningin ko, ang kahalagahan ng election ay symbolic lamang at hindi katulad sa sinasabi ng ABS-CBN na ito ang simula ng pagbabago.

** Contrary to the impression of Dr. Clarita Carlos, I am not suggesting that soldiers should debate what to do before going to battle. I know the logic of war well enough to see that in the midst of an operation the soldiers must obey the ground commander. I have in mind orders that involve policy issues. For example, the order for the Marine units in Maguindanao to assist in electoral fraud. As Gen. Gudani and Col. Balutan attested, many of the Marine officers found this objectionable, but they were gagged as Gen. Lim is being prevented from participating in our forum today.


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