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Philippine military in government: Pattern of appointments will persist

Glenda M. Gloria
Philippine military in government: Pattern of appointments will persist

Artwork by Emil Mercado/Rappler

Regimes will choose this path rather than risk an armed confrontation with their politicized soldiers

We conclude that the appointment to the bureaucracy and election of active and retired military officers will continue in the coming years.

It is difficult, if not almost impossible, to unlearn what the soldier has learned and been exposed to in the last four decades. His socialization, and the fact that the regime tolerates this, has laid out for the soldier the inevitable option of taking over civilian tasks once he’s done with his military service. 

In reality, his work as a soldier already serves as his training ground: helping communities in disaster operations, assisting in medical missions, building roads and bridges in remote towns, analyzing the root causes of rebellion and insurgency, and realizing that the two prevail because of the failure of civilian governance.

On the other hand, the last 16 years brought about military-friendly regimes that accepted, and in some cases encouraged, the influence and participation of the military in running state affairs. 

In this instance, why bother staging a coup when power would be better wielded – and accepted – through government appointments and elective posts? Notice the huge number of military officers who joined elections since 1992, when Ramos was elected president. The last coup attempt by rebel soldiers was staged in 1989; what followed was nothing beyond rumors and noise about an impending coup.

Military theorists argue that the blurring of lines between civilian and military tasks results in the weakening of civilian institutions.

American academic Louis Goodman, Dean of the School of International Service of the American University, argues that the military should eventually give up these “transitional roles” – combating drug trafficking, fighting other crimes, constructing roads and bridges. To make these roles “permanent” weakens the capability of political systems to fully develop and causes the armed forces to neglect their traditional role on defense and security. He cites one particular disadvantage – in combating drug trafficking for example, a military officer would be vulnerable to bribery and this, in turn, would cause disrespect of the military.

I would argue a step further to say that the appointment of officers to civilian posts is reflective of the rent-seeking character of the country’s elite, which includes the officer corps of the Armed Forces. In various departments and agencies, we see not only “military dynasties” but also blocs and turfs controlled by various elite groups such as a fraternity organization, university alumni, or law firm. Thus, it has become part of the norm to hear of a University of the Philippines “mafia” in a certain department or an “Upsilon” clique (a fraternity of law students in UP) in the Department of Justice.

What distinguishes the military “mafia” is the soldier’s culture, the top-down organization that he’s familiar with, the wide network he enjoys, and, most significantly, his access to – and training – in arms. It is the latter that puts regimes in a most vulnerable situation. 

It is the latter that puts regimes in a most vulnerable situation. 

For so long as the military brokers political transitions, for so long as there are insurgencies and rebellions that make the nation dependent on its armed forces, and for so long as weak civilian institutions remain vulnerable to destabilizing forces, this pattern of military appointments to the bureaucracy will continue. 

Regimes will choose this path rather than risk an armed confrontation with their politicized soldiers. – RapplerPLUS

Editor’s Note: The research on military appointees from Cory Aquino to Gloria Arroyo was conducted by the author in 2003 for a pamphlet she published titled, “We Were Soldiers: Military Men in Politics and the Bureaucracy.”

Below are links to the stories that are part of this series:

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Glenda M. Gloria

Glenda Gloria is the managing editor of Rappler and one of its co-founders. A journalist for three decades now, Glenda has been a reporter for newspapers, magazines, and wire agencies, and has run print, online, and TV newsrooms. She is a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Class 2018 .