Who Will Use the Filipino Soldiers First?
by Manuel L. Quezon III
Montesquieu, in “The Spirit of Laws,” wrote, “It is natural for mankind to set a higher value upon courage than timidity, on activity than prudence, on strength than counsel. Hence the army will ever despise Senate, and respect their own officers. They will naturally slight the orders sent them by a body of men whom they look upon as cowards, and therefore unworthy to command them. So that as soon as the troops depend entirely on the legislative body, it becomes a military government; and if the contrary has ever happened, it has been owing to some extraordinary circumstances. It is because the army was always kept divided; it is because it was composed of several bodies that depend each on a particular province; it is because the capital towns were strong places, defended by their natural situation, and not garrisoned with regular troops.”
The Philippines has the second-oldest officer corps in Southeast Asia, whether you date it, as the Armed Forces of the Philippines does, in a case of historical fiction, to the Army of the Revolution and the Malolos Republic, or to its actual genesis in 1935 when the Philippine Army was established, and adopted in toto American military traditions and methods. The oldest officer corps would be that of Thailand, the only country in the region never formally colonized, and which was advanced enough to have mounted a coup (the first of many that continue to the present) which reduced the Thai monarchy from an absolute one to the revered “constitutional” one it is today.
Ideally, Filipinos should admire their officer corps; as Gen. Vicente Lim, World War II hero and first Filipino graduate of West Point, wrote to his sons, “No matter how crooked, how weak the next president is…as long as the army is strong, honest, and free from politics, the nation will stand. The army has always been the backbone of all nations, barring none in the world.”
Gen. Lim felt that without a principled and competent officer corps, the Philippine Army would count for nothing. This view got him into trouble, when he opposed Gen. MacArthur’s national defense plan on the grounds that it concentrated too much on training enlisted reserves, and not on creating enough officers, “the most fundamental step in building up an army.”
Instead, Gen. Lim fretted about the effects “half-baked trained officers” would have on the growth of the armed forces. Even during the embryonic days of the Philippine Army, the factors that would result in the officer corps becoming more of an agent for abuse and corruption than a positive one were evident. Gen. Lim, with his keen mind, revealed them in his letters. In a letter dated April 14, 1939, he recounted a meeting with the Philippine president. “I told him that the tradition of this army is to help each other, right or wrong, which is a fatal tradition, if it continues for the existence of the country.”
Being a true officer and a gentleman, Gen. Lim also disliked brutality in the army. In a letter dated Feb. 1, 1941, already thinking ahead to the inevitability of war, he wrote, “I noticed that non-commissioned officers following the line of least resistance to acquire obedience to their orders use their fists and do bodily harm to subordinates. Abuse of authority is rampant in this army; the whole structure of our discipline is based on fear…fear of loss of money; fear of privilege taken away; fear of the power behind authority…A man can be led, although I admit it to be rather difficult and tedious, in the right direction through sound reasoning and confidence in the leaders.”
Lim prided himself in attempting to lay the foundations for the eradication of army brutality; he hoped it would be one of his legacies, but it did not outlive him. It has even spread, as deaths due to the hazing of military frat members attests.
There is much to marvel at in Gen. Lim, as he represented the qualities of an ideal officer: Pride in his calling, skill in the military sciences, a great, disciplined intelligence, a devotion to duty and constitutionally-ordained authority, as well as humility and compassion. It is also interesting to see that being the exemplar of the complete officer, he also articulated the military mentality when it comes to the role of the army in society — the military view of politics, which persists to the present.
It’s unfortunate that I have to quote a Filipino general from over half a century ago to delve into the military mind. The reason is that the Filipino officer corps of today is not as forthcoming with its views, and I suspect, not capable of as much eloquence of expression. This is strange considering that there are probably more highly educated officers in the Philippine armed forces today, than at any other previous time in its history, and not just in the military sciences. Whether or not those officers can affect the Philippine military, which is overstaffed, underpaid, poorly equipped and divided, politically, is another question altogether.
By all accounts, last Sunday, an attempt to mount a putsch against the government was nipped in the bud. Whenever such news emerges, the first question that comes to mind is not, “will they succeed,” but rather, “what will they do, if they win?” Would the Philippines be run by a military junta (not an inspiring thought), or a combined military-civilian council? And what, if any, qualifications would the military have to even partially run the state? The few manifestos I’ve read which claim to have emanated from the ranks of the military sound eerily like the manifestos penned by their perennial enemies on the field, the Communists. This is far from reassuring.
But one thing is sure: Months into the ongoing political crisis in the Philippines, the specter of a resolution through military intervention won’t go away. It seems a race is on to see who will get to use the soldiers first, and is not even a question of who can achieve a resolution without bringing out the bayonets.