‘Our dreams will never die’

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THAT HAS been the slogan of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) when it started out in the early 1980s as a rebel organization in the military aiming to topple the Marcos regime.

The rebels calculated that to announce that their goal, their dream, was the noble one of reforming the Armed Forces of the Philippines would be the best way to recruit officers and men to the mutiny. After all, its aim was to undertake a coup d’ état, the first time ever in the country’s history.

The project of reforming the AFP never took off. RAM supremo Gringo Honasan gave up his putschist penchant and embraced democracy, to become a senator in 1995 and be reelected for two more terms. However, none of Honasan’s legislative actions involved reforming the AFP. He did not use his resources as senator for an anti-corruption campaign in the military. The RAM became just another cooperative of sorts running businesses, including security agencies, a taxi company, and reportedly even a car distributorship. Its leaders have adopted comfortably into the corporate world as security consultants or as media-seeking risk analysts for investment banks.

RAM’s political progeny, the Magdalo rebels, occasionally claimed that they were rebelling also in order to reform the Armed Forces. But like their elders, that has been merely a snake-oil salesman’s pitch for recruitment.

Retired Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, former Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes IV and Col. Ariel Querubin in the past years have had full access to the press. Do you ever remember them really talking about corruption in the AFP, or deploying resources to investigate graft in the military? Yes, Trillanes wrote a sloppy masteral thesis on corruption in the Navy, but has he followed up his investigation? When the Magdalo rebels occupied Oakwood in 2003, did they ever even hint of corruption in the controllership system of the AFP?

Their rantings have always been against alleged corruption in President Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration, hardly, if ever, against graft in their own organization, the AFP. And they would have been the best investigators of graft in the military as they have had extensive networks in that organization.

At the Senate hearings, Trillanes has been striving to claim credit for the exposés of corruption in the Armed Forces, and in the most megalomaniacal display of arrogance, scolded his former chief of staff, the late Angelo Reyes: “The day of reckoning has come for you.”

The Magdalo group has nothing to do with the acceleration of the campaign against corruption in the military. It is the result of collective efforts of many individuals and agencies all working quietly without much fanfare within the framework of a democratic system.

The now famous Heidi Mendoza was not a do-gooder NGO activist who walked into AFP offices to look at their files. She was a member of a team assigned by the Commission on Audit under then Chairman Gillermo Carague to investigate reports of fraud initially in local governments and then in the military.

The COA team’s findings became a data bank for the reforms President Arroyo ordered Defense Secretaries Eduardo Ermita (October 2003 to August 2004) and Avelino Cruz (August 2004 to November 2006) to implement along the lines suggested by the Feliciano Commission report of 2003. The all-powerful comptroller’s office, which Carlos Garcia purportedly managed to utilize to siphon off money for himself and his superiors, has become history. It was dismantled in 2004, with four different units providing a check-and-balance system replacing it.

The report on the US Customs’ confiscation of the dollars brought into America by Garcia’s sons would not have resulted in anything much if the Office of the Ombudsman had not decided to pursue charges against the general. The Ombudsman could have been stonewalled by the AFP leadership which instead cooperated fully with it, even giving Mendoza and her team full access to their records. The Ombudsman would not have the resources to pursue the case without the doubling of its budget and personnel that President Arroyo got Congress to approve.

The RAM and the Magdalo’s slogan, “Our dreams will never die,” may have actually meant something other than reforming the military.

The televised hearings have painted a picture of corrupt generals and their wives shopping all over the world. Even as young congressmen show off their debating skills in the hearings, they are debasing episode by episode the integrity of the Armed Forces. Communist activists could not contain their glee over these recent events, even demonstrating and raining invectives right on the AFP headquarters. What do you think would a soldier watching the hearings with battered boots, and perhaps even with a wound from an NPA bullet feel? Likely: “Those Magdalo men I saw several years ago on TV at Oakwood were right. I will join them.”

There is an increasing realization that we may have a spoiled brat for a president. There is an over-the-hump general as defense secretary and an arthritic national security adviser. The government has a limp-wrist, even coddling, stance towards the communist insurgency. A former adviser of the dreaded Alex Boncayao Brigade urban hit squad is the president’s political adviser. Thanks to TV, the public is scandalized over the accounts of military corruption.

With all these, the RAM and the Magdalo’s dream—which could be our nightmare—certainly hasn’t died: grabbing power

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Angie Reyes was a comrade and colleague who spent his life defending democracy against all its enemies. Our deepest condolences to his family.

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer