Challenging Jose Almonte

We need to unmask the deception in Jose Almonte’s “A reforming AFP poses a threat to a corrupt state” (Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Talk of the Town, May 15, 2005). The former national security adviser claimed that “the Aquino and Arroyo administrations rose to power on the back of military and national police support.” Let’s set the record straight. Corazon Aquino did not rise to power on “the back of military and national police support.” The people willingly and eagerly carried her on their backs to Malacanang, meaning the uniformed services had nothing to do with it.

It was civilians who served as the human barricades around Camp Crame. It was Almonte’s faction that was defended by civilians and nuns, the very same people who suffered under the dictator that Almonte’s faction propped up and then mutinied against.

Mrs. Aquino did not take her oath of office at Camp Crame because she had the foresight to see that Almonte and his ilk would use it to back up the historical revisionism that they are engaging in. The truth is Almonte et al all hid behind her skirt until they felt safe enough to come out and strut around like the heroes they never were.

On the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Almonte wrote: “Some suggest a reform of the Philippine Military Academy curriculum, or the abolition of the PMA altogether. This is a dubious idea. A school cannot be held responsible for the moral failures of some of its graduates decades after their graduation.”

On the contrary, the academy can and should be held responsible when many, not just some, of its graduates become morally depraved, even if it happened decades after they graduated. The academy is supposed to equip those who would one day be entrusted with the security of the State with a solid moral foundation. What kind of academy is it that would impart moral values with a short shelf life?

Almonte himself said: “So potentially powerful is the military, in relation to the larger civilian society, that the quality of its socialization must concern us all.” Why then is reforming the academy a dubious idea? And why hold it blameless?

If we can’t blame the academy, then can we blame the organization that cadets join after graduation? Is it there where they lose their morals? If that’s the case, then we’re right back to the academy because that’s where practically all AFP officers come from. If neither the academy nor the AFP is at fault, then who is to blame, who causes moral degradation, the corrupt society?

But that can’t be because you yourself said “political authorities throughout history have strove to insulate the military institution from temptation by ‘professionalizing’ the officer corps … The professional training that officers receive conditions them – as experts in the management of violence – to regard themselves as a caste set apart from ordinary people.” So, if the military is a “caste set apart,” who do we blame for the sordid state of affairs in the AFP? Satan?
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Discussing Gen. Carlos Garcia’s case, Almonte wrote, “In keeping with the fraternal spirit instilled in the officer corps, these comptrollers apparently look after high-ranking officers … Military leaders seem to have closed ranks after they learned of the dollar shipments Garcia’s family had been making.” Where do you think this fraternal spirit is first inculcated and then perverted? Isn’t this fraternal spirit what historian Alfred W. McCoy documented in his study, Closer than Brothers?

Let’s go to the real point of Almonte’s article: “If the military remains professional in a state run by corrupt and incompetent politicians, then this professional military will, sooner or later, be moved by popular demand to take over such a mismanaged society.”

In reality, the military does not move in response to popular demand. It moves when it can while it can. Was RAM “moved by popular demand” to overthrow Mrs. Aquino? How about the Oakwood boys? Did the military mistake the clamor of vested interests for the popular demand in the case of Estrada?

The answer is found in Almonte’s piece: “In our country, the military, abetted by the opposition, the Americans and the Church, was venturing into national politics as early as the 1950s when it planned to intervene in the election between an unpopular President Elpidio Quirino and his populist ex-Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay.”

Please spare us this talk about a reformed Armed Forces becoming a danger to a corrupt state. That kind of talk is meant to lay the predicate for a military takeover. By contrasting a “reformed” Armed Forces to “corrupt” and “incompetent” politicians and then talking about responding to “popular demand,” Almonte hopes to clothe a naked power grab with a constitutional mantle.

He would have us believe that, “Of all the institutions in the new countries, the military is commonly the best organized, the most nearly equal, the most disciplined and the most closely knit. Hence, it becomes, in most cases, a major player in post-independence politics.”

If what he says is true, then we would welcome the military as a major player. But except for being closely knit, the AFP possesses none of those qualities. We have never had a military that Alfred W. McCoy describes as “subordinated to politicians, yet apolitical; armed yet nonviolent; all-powerful yet powerless.”

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