American blogger (and fellow Palamas Media person) Austin Bay sends a shiver (of something approaching delight, over the attention, including an ongoing conversation with Philippine Commentary, it seems to me) in the Filipino blogosphere over focusing on coup rumors: part one and part two takes a look at reports from various sources, including a Voice of America article (with the kind of unflattering picture of the President that’s de rigeur; incidentally, Jove Francisco has an insider’s view of what transpired in the Palace yesterday). Ricky Carandang asks, what’s going on?
I’d ask, not only what, but why, and add, further, it would be wrong that the country has reached its present, crucial, juncture, simply due to the egotism of the soldiery and the ambitions of some within the citizenry.
First and foremost, the President has brought it upon herself.
Oscar Lagman, in his Business World column today, catalogs the reasons why the Armed Forces of the Philippines are upset with the President (click on the image below to download his column).
Lagman summarizes the President’s strategy -which is boomeranging- as follows:
Cognizant of the fact that the withdrawal of support of the generals of the armed units of the government was what finally brought Erap down (she never fails to take the opportunity to express her gratitude to the military for its contribution to her ascent to the presidency), GMA has been courting the personal loyalty of the generals from the day she took over from Erap so they would not themselves plot against her. She has pleased the pliable but undeserving with quick promotions and choice assignments in the military/police establishment and rewarded those who served her personal interests well with Cabinet appointments, high-paying jobs in government corporations, and ambassadorial posts, appointments for which the ex-generals were not trained.
She hopes that each appointment has a multiplier effect on PMA graduates whose fraternal ties welded during their academy days made them closer than brothers throughout their military careers and beyond.
The President, too, in the civilian sphere has embarked on an arrogation of power virtually unprecedented; her allies either on her sufferance or with her active connivance, have embarked on the most shameless and squalid effort to establish an unaccountable oligarchy we’ve ever seen. As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, pointing to Machievelli (and Sun Tzu, too!), the President lacks a happy shrewdness; she is neither loved, nor, increasingly, feared; in Italian renaissance terms, she relies on the nobility to maintain her in power; and she lacks judgment in choosing her ministers. That the public at large dislikes her, but would tolerate her “for lack of an alternative,” only goes to prove that the seductiveness of the reasoning of tyrants and dictators is a spell not only hard to break, but difficult to resist: better Hitler, his autobahns, and the Volkswagen, than the Communists! Mussolini made the trains run on time! GMA Cares!
Yet there is, as Newsstand observed, the necessity of pointing out the reality of the situation. Two things are at work here: the President’s culpability in making a train wreck of government, and the equally botched efforts of her opponents to pursue constitutional paths to redemption.
Observers more cold-blooded than I might conclude that an epidemic of messiahnism has struck significant swathes of our population (including, I would think, the ranks of the administration, eager to wrap the flag and constitution around itself). The Armed Forces, after the marvelous failure that was the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny, is feverish with adventurism again; surely civilian cheerleaders can’t be far behind. Newsstand, in his entry linked above, has no patience for military messiahs:
…What recommends San Juan, or any Magdalo mutineer for that matter, as our country’s savior? That they were incompetent enough to botch their coup attempt in 2003? That they are two-faced enough to apologize, in public, to the President for their role in the mutiny a couple of years later? That they are hypocritical enough to lambaste corruption and cronyism in the military and yet depend on their own set of cronies and network of contacts in the military to escape detention or enjoy unusual privileges? That they are cowardly enough to find courage in their arms and makeshift bombs and other instruments of violence?
Let the mutineers (one of whom was just arrested today) answer themselves. Newsbreak Magazine has made available an interview conducted with four of the putschists (click below to download the interview, which will appear in its next issue).
From the interview, an illuminating extract:
Q. But other soldiers would say that Oakwood was a failure and because of this they would not join another failure.
Rabonza: We’ve been telling them that it was not a failure. In fact, it became an eye-opener to a lot in the AFP and the civilians. They told us before, why not wait for the 2004 elections? Look what happened in that election.
San Juan: If Oakwood was a failure, then we should not have escaped from jail. More recruits would not be joining us now. We are still defiant, and even those in detention — despite the restrictions — continue to break the chain of command. We have former comrades, who were very bold and very radical [during Oakwood] and who are [now with government.] But they are isolated. They told us that after Oakwood, the job is done and that we should just accept our punishment.
Compare the above with what Generalissimo Francisco Franco said, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War:
Q. What would your government do, if you won?
A. I would establish a military dictatorship.
Q. What would happen to the politicians of the republic?
A. Nothing, except they would have to go to work.
Q. Why were you able to collaborate with the government in apparent loyalty for so long?
A. I collaborated loyally as long as I thought the Republic represented the national will.
Q. What about the February elections? Don’t they represent the national will?
A. Elections never do.
Are there significant differences? And are the differences reassuring? Put another way, I would invite the reader to ponder the following questions, in trying to discern their own opinions -and convictions- in the face of coup-related news:
1. Is a coup merely a possibility, or an inevitability?
2. If it is merely a possibility, is a coup something that should be discouraged, or encouraged?
3. If it is inevitable, are the chances for success high, or low? Even if inevitable, is it being rashly accelerated by outside manipulation, for example, by a government that would prefer a bungled coup attempt now, to a successful one, later?
4. Either way, what would be the consequences for the country, in the short and long term?
5. And what will the consequences be, for the average citizen, never mind officials or those already politically involved on either side?
6. Are the circumstances such, that a coup, in the first place, becomes a manifestation of the inherent right of the citizenry to overthrow a despotic regime? Does a tyrannical, or illegitimate, regime exist?
7. Even presuming the right to revolt can be invoked, by what authority do (by necessity, a small minority composed of the armed forces, assisted or at the very least, unimpeded by civilian forces) those planning to move, have the right to move?
8. Does anyone, whether in or outside government, for or against the present administration, know enough about the motivations, plans, methods, inclinations of the military, to form an educated and discerning opinion about the proclaimed plans of those who want to mount a coup?
9. If so, will one be passive or active in response? If not, is passivity even an option?
10. And as for reform, what proof is there, that a national consensus exists, as to which avenues of reform to pursue? All questions concerning the administration focus on two, simple issues: the President is not the legitimate president, or, the President’s previous legitimacy has been made irrelevant by her action since July, 2005. This being the case, is not the call of the times simply to restore what has been lost -a chief executive with an indubitable mandate- and that therefore, the task of reform should only be pursued once proper presidential elections have been held, and not before?
I believe these questions are urgent. They are necessary. They should be answered (others have been asking similar questions, too). I am particularly emphatic about what sort of claim anyone can make as to the existence of a national consensus: in June, 2005, I called for the process to begin; in September, 2005, I said a consensus must be accomplished within five months: those five months have come to pass. The question of a consensus and our common ideals acquires a special urgency because we are confronted by Edsa I, and our being the heirs of the freedom gained, and maintained, since then.
Austin Bay also points to a Time Magazine by Anthony Spaeth (once upon a time, not one of my favorite American parachute journalists, although since Edsa III, I’ve ended up reconsidering my vehement objections to his points somewhat: see my blog entry on the conditions that lead to coups being considered to eliminate a government, or preserve it):
In the past few months, an alarming range of prominent Filipinos has gone public to insist that the only cure for the country is “revolutionary change” or “a change in the system.” When they stop mincing words, they say a dictatorship would be useful, at least for a few years. People Power is a national pride, but also a curse — a Pandora’s Box that, in the minds of many, should be permanently welded shut.
I do believe that a citizen, to borrow a phrase from the late Teodoro M. Locsin, Sr., can -and should- “thunder and shrill” when government fails to address the aspirations of the citizenry. But there is a big difference between a citizen marching in the streets, or writing manifestos, or pondering the urgent tasks required to renew the nation, and the citizen who is armed, and thus has an absolute veto against debate. The ultimate question is, if People Power has been criticized as too much of a shortcut, is a coup anything less? Or is it time to cut the Gordian knot?