The Long View
Out of sight, out of mind
It’s probable that as far as the governments of Brunei and the Netherlands are concerned, they won’t object to Generals Alexander Yano and Cardozo Luna being made Philippine ambassadors to those countries. And while feathers have been ruffled in the Department of Foreign Affairs – the appointments will affect the chances of careerists reaching retirement age achieving plum ambassadorial posts – the DFA is also used to career diplomats rudely being shoved aside to accommodate political appointees.
It’s significant that Yano is being compared to the late Rafael Ileto, as far as the chief executive’s motives for sending him abroad. Nearly all the press reports on the Yano appointment bring up Ileto, who was Armed Forces deputy chief of staff, being made an ambassador to get him out the way because he registered objections to martial law.
President Marcos himself, in his diary, makes no mention of any such objections in entries such as this one, dated May 8, 1972: ” After the meeting I directed Sec. Ponce Enrile, the Chief of Staff, Gen. Espino, Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. Ileto, PC Chief, Gen. Ramos, PA Chief, Gen. Zagala, Air Force Chief, Gen. Rancudo, 1st PC Zone Commander, Gen. Tomas Diaz, IV PC Zone Commander, Gen. Encarnacion, Asst. Chief of Staff, J-2, Col. Paz, to update the contingency plans and the list of target personalities in the event of the use of emergency powers.”
Ileto remained deputy chief of staff up to 1973 and was even promoted to vice chief of staff in 1974. It wasn’t until 1975 that he was sent overseas as ambassador, although he remained a commissioned officer until he retired from the military in 1978. If you recall my two-column series on Marcos, some observers like Lew Gleeck point to 1975 as a turning point in Marcos’ New Society, when the removal of Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor marked the end of the period of reform.
Besides Ileto, another general-turned-ambassador is often mentioned in reports: Manuel Yan, who was sent overseas as an ambassador after he retired and was replaced by Romeo Espino, the chief of staff until 1981. Both Yan and Ileto have been described as belonging to the strict, constitutionalist tradition of our early officer corps, and who were viewed as not pliable enough by Marcos, who preferred to rely on officers from the UP Vanguard, for example.
Whatever reservations or objections Yan and Ileto may have had concerning either martial law or Marcos’ handling of the military didn’t prevent them from accepting diplomatic postings. And this, to my mind, is where the comparisons being made between Ileto and Yano truly gets interesting.
Let’s assume that after 1975, Marcos decided that Ileto was too much of a stickler for propriety to retain at home, and that it would be more politically advantageous to send him abroad to join Yan in representing the country overseas. Let’s assume, further, that the traditional notions of soldierly conduct in which both Yan and Ileto were drilled demanded of them acceptance of their respective ambassadorships, on the principle that if the President of the Philippines gives you an order, your duty is to obey.
Then it’s possible to conclude that on the one hand, what presidents like Marcos feared was that respected officers might become a focus for unfavorable comparisons with the officers he (Marcos) preferred, while the prestige and sense of duty of those inconvenient, old-fashioned soldiers made them useful in obtaining goodwill elsewhere. So, on the whole, it was a perfectly reasonable political solution all around: and one made delicious because it relied on the officers obeying orders to exile them abroad.
The same thing seems to be at work in the cases of Yano and Luna. But what makes both men so inconvenient to the administration at the present time? It’s the respect in which both men are said to be held by most of the officer corps, and the approach both men have taken towards the AFP and its relationship with the commander in chief. On one hand, both men have tried to insulate the military from political interference, while on the other hand trying to dampen down any unrest arising from grievances among enlisted men and the officer corps.
Both, it seem, have been fairly successful at this, and one reason may be that both embarked on a policy of “strict constructionism,” concerning the military. That is, they wouldn’t tolerate lost commands and rogue liquidation squads targeting the government’s civilian enemies, they would resist using the military for patently partisan political purposes, but also demand of civilian leaders that they stop pushing the envelope as far as the constitutional framework is concerned (meaning: plots to declare a state of emergency or some sort of martial law).
One version of this policy I heard was basically that “there will be no coups so long as the civilian leadership refrains from efforts to unconstitutionally extend its stay in power.” This implies a consensus within the officer corps that it would be better, institutionally, for the military to avoid rocking the boat, and await, instead, a less controversial administration to enter office in 2010.
Yano’s early retirement and his assignment, along with his reportedly more hot-headed (or politically expressive) deputy, Luna, may therefore be more a case of their being willing to fall on their swords, in order to permit at least one more non-controversial chief of staff to sit before the truly controversial Delfin Bangit takes command in time for the elections. It remains to be seen whether in following orders, they will provide any institutional benefits at all or are merely postponing an inevitable resumption of unrest within the ranks.