WITH HIS amnesty plan to free military mutineers, particularly former Navy Lieutenant and now Senator Antonio Trillanes, President Aquino will make plotting and participation in coups viable career paths for megalomaniacs in the Armed Forces. Congress is even being asked to rubber-stamp a distorted kind of military thinking, which in essence rejects the very idea of a parliament.
The reaction of another accused mutineer, retired Brigadier General Danilo Lim, to the proclamation lays bare the bankruptcy of this kind of thinking: “A soldier must be ready at all times to fight and defend his country, even if the oppressor is the government itself,” he said.
The question is: Who or what decides whether or not the government is an oppressor a soldier must fight? Is it Lim? Surveys? Media? NGOs? The size of demonstrations? Disgruntled fame-seeking government officials?
Lim would likely answer: It is the people who decide. But that only begs the question. Who decides what the people want?
The answer to both questions: It is the representational, rule-by-law democracy. It is a system bequeathed to us through centuries, developed by the best and noblest of men throughout the world, and even paid for in blood. It’s very unfortunate that Western Civilization 101 isn’t taught properly at the Philippine Military Academy.
It is not any group of people, not even many groups of people, or even one institution. The authority and legitimacy of a particular government is decided by a complex set of institutions that include the electoral system, the judiciary and Congress, which constitute representative democracy.
The mutineers refuse to understand that the essence of democracy is that it is not people with arms, no matter how noble their intentions are, who decide who rules. It is the dynamic of democratic institutions, mainly the system of people’s direct vote and representational parliament.
Lim will likely ask: What if it fails?
But then who decides that there is a failure of the democratic system?
It took humanity centuries to realize that this system is the most practical, peaceful and rational of arrangements for a society to function.
Military men with Lim’s and Trillanes’ kind of thinking—that armed men have the right to decide that a government should be toppled—have thrown many countries into anarchy and poverty.
Lim and Trillanes merely mouthed all putschists’ avowals that they seize power only to save their countries from oppression and corruption. Their role model isn’t Andres Bonifacio, but the tyrants who smashed democracy in their country, among them: Generals Idi Amin of Uganda and Ne Win of Burma; Colonels Jean Bokassa of the Central African Republic and Juxton-Smith of Sierra Leone; Captain Mouda Camara of Giuinea and Master Sergeant Samuel Doe of Liberia.
Senator Joker Arroyo explained the reason he opposes the amnesty plan: “The military is the only apparatus in the government which has the monopoly of the legal use of force.” This in fact is how modern democratic systems are set up, with the state authorizing solely its military in order for it to exist. For the military to use that force against the state that created it is betrayal of the most depraved kind.
This is the reason most modern societies impose on mutineers, even if no deaths occurred, the severest penalty of death (only recently reduced to life imprisonment).
A democratic system even prohibits military men from politics, and from commenting on the conduct of governance. If the mutineers had wanted to be involved in politics or to overthrow the government, they should have first resigned from the military and done what most anti-establishment activists do, which is to organize their own parties or, in communist warlord Jose Maria Sison’s case, build his own “state” with its own army.
It was indeed a defining moment of American democracy when President Harry Truman fired one their country’s most popular and revered generals, Douglas MacArthur, for privately questioning his “limited strategy” in the Korean War. More recently, President Barack Obama fired his commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, for making scornful remarks about administration officials.
In the Philippine case, the President even interferes with the judiciary and pre-empts the court decision expected in just a few weeks after four years of trial and declares the mutineers immune from any criminal liability.
In ancient times, warriors had a code of honor and boldly faced the consequences of breaking the chain of command. After defying his master and failing, samurai disembowels himself. Roman generals in a failed coup against the emperor fall on their swords. Modern generals, like MacArthur, reminded of this code, just fade away. The Greek generals who seized power in 1967 never appealed their case, and all died in prison in their 80s.
In our case, mutineers go to court to claim, ridiculously, that their failed coup wasn’t a coup since they didn’t kill anybody, although they couldn’t because they gave up after hearing the rumbling of the tanks rolling towards them and seeing no “people power” materializing. Then they try hard to be politicians and celebrities.
The message the amnesty plan will be sending is: Defy the chain of command, and try to overthrow the government. If you fail, you’ll be pardoned, and you might even get to go to Congress, while your comrades who defended the Constitution get boring jobs as security consultants.
It’s a deep stab in democracy’s heart. Just to thank the mutineers’ for their tiny support in the elections, and to get the vote of one senator? Or is it because of fear?
From the Philippine Daily Inquirer