May 20, 2005

Lessons in rebellion

Some quarters have opined that the plea bargain resorted to by 184 soldiers undergoing trial by court martial for their participation in the Oakwood mutiny resulted in punishment that was little more than a “slap on the wrist” similar to the "100 push-ups" meted by then AFP Chief-of- Staff Gen. Fidel Ramos on military officers and men involved in the 1989 coup attempt against the government of Mrs. Corazon Aquino.

They rue the lesson, or rather, lack of it, that will again be impressed on the Oakwood mutiny leaders and their followers – that mutinies and coup d’etats when unsuccessful, do lead to hardships and punishment meted out by the state to those they can catch and prosecute but not enough to discourage would-be putschists who will try and try until they succeed (especially when there is no lack of civilian as well as foreign sponsors of such military adventurism).

But take it from Prof. Carolina Hernandez, Presidential Adviser on the Recommendations of the Feliciano Commission that investigated the Oakwood mutiny. Hernandez categorically states that another coup attempt is still possible despite the punishment meted out to the soldiers who joined the mutiny because the factors underlying these rebellious acts continue to exist.

Another member of the Feliciano Commission, retired Navy Captain Rex Robles, a former Navy intelligence officer who himself took part in the anti-Aquino coups, even warns us that a coup appears to be imminent if not already in the offing, citing meetings and movements of at least four military groups.

By and large the mutineers have in fact been vindicated both by public opinion and subsequent events. A Pulse Asia survey done a month after the mutiny showed that more than half of respondents agreed that the soldiers had sufficient reason to rebel against the government. Corruption of gargantuan proportions, institutionalized and involving no less than the top brass of the AFP was exposed in the scandalous case of AFP Comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, accused of diverting at least P70 million of AFP funds into his or his co-conspirators’ pockets. Subsequently, at least another 9 high ranking military officials were also charged in the wake of public clamor for heads to roll.

The miserable conditions of soldiers in the field – delayed salaries, no rice allowances, inferior or defective helmets and boots, inadequate medical services – are indisputably connected with the insidious practice of “conversion” a system wherein purchases of supplies are faked and then fake receipts are used to disburse budgeted money, which is then divided among the corrupt officials, suppliers and other government personnel involved.

The more damaging testimonies of the Oakwood officers had to do with allegations that their senior officers had ordered the bombing of a mosque and that then ISAFP Chief Gen. Victor Corpuz and then Defense Secretary Gen. Angelo Reyes were involved in the Mindanao bombings which the government and military blamed on "terrorists". The Oakwood officers alleged that the bombings were actually the handiwork of the military as part of building up a scenario of being under siege by unnamed "terrorists" most likely Muslim fundamentalists, thereby justifying fascist measures invoking "counter-terrorism". Subsequent investigations by an independent citizens’ commission organized by church people, lawyers, bombing victims and their families revealed that such were not the handiwork of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) but were suspiciously tied to the AFP’s campaign of psychological warfare, selective assassination and intense militarization of the countryside as part and parcel of its counter-insurgency program.

To top it all, the Oakwood mutineers dared to place the blame squarely on their Commander-in-chief and President of the Republic and demanded her resignation alongside those of Generals Corpuz and Reyes. The mutineers invoked their loyalty to the people and their sovereign will against that of a Commander-in-chief and military high command who had lost all moral ascendancy and political legitimacy to rule, not to mention were themselves guilty of the most heinous crimes.

Let’s get it straight. From the way the entire episode was eventually executed, it was a political statement rather than a real power grab. Of course, the Arroyo regime swamped as it was by economic and political crises, could not afford such a symbolic protest by men in uniform.

From the point of view of the targets of the rebellion, the military top brass and the President, the mutineers had to be punished for daring to expose the shenanigans of their superiors, taking their case direct to the public and worse, for training the mutineers’ guns against the chain of command. They had to be made into a negative example so that other like-minded officers and men would think three times before mounting another distinctive kind of armed protest action.

What many sectors and opinion makers criticized the Oakwood mutineers for was the manner in which they chose to express their disgust and protest, in that innocent lives were placed in harm’s way. But as a jolt to the Establishment, both military and civilian, they delivered a powerful message in a most dramatic fashion. And they did so without a chance for any kind of military success. Rather, the most they could aim for was merely a political, largely symbolic, victory for which they faced the full force of the law and the vindictiveness of the Arroyo regime. No material rewards were in the offing; rather the likelihood of dismissal from the service and other punitive measures from government lay in wait for them.

In the end the lesson that should be learned is that no military rebellion can succeed, much less establish and sustain a military or civilian-military form of rule, without the support of the people or unless in conjunction with an unarmed uprising or armed revolution from below.

More importantly is the lesson that a democratic reform movement inside the military must be grounded on 1) the long standing legitimate grievances of the majority rank and file and the young officer corps still untainted by the corruption inhering in the more senior officers; 2) the correct analysis of what is wrong not just with the ruling regime but with the entire ruling system that has spawned the economic, political and socio-cultural problems facing the Filipino people for decades; and 3) a profound insight into the history of the AFP as a tool of the reactionaries against the people, foremost of which is its dependence on the United States for its indoctrination including its deeply-rooted anti-communist and anti-Muslim bias, its training in “dirty warfare”, and logistical and financial support.

May 20-21, 2005


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