In the two or so months I’ve kept a blog, I’ve learned to rely on the judgment of a few fellow travelers. Lawyer Edwin Lacierda is one of them. His latest posting, however, has unsettled me deeply. If I read "Commander-in-Chief" correctly, he is saying "the military" has the right to object collectively to the designation of Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan as commanding general of the Armed Forces’ largest area command. Moreover, he is saying that that "right" is based on the natural law of self-preservation.
Because we often share similar views, I regret to say that I cannot agree with him on this one. In fact, it pains me to say that his argument, if pursued to its logical end, puts the democratic project itself at risk. That, at least, is my view; let me explain why.
Let me begin by pointing out that the question Edwin leads off with is a complex one.
Under what constitutional authority did the President [act when she] refused the recommendation of the Board of Generals to appoint the eminently qualified General Samuel Bagasin to head the Southern Command and instead appointed General Edilberto Adan who never handled a division.
It is a loaded question, because certain crucial facts are assumed. One, that Bagasin, the commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division, based in Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro, is eminently qualified for SouthCom. Two, that only division commanders are qualified to head area commands. And three, that refusing the recommendation of the BoG is an extraordinary act, requiring a return to constitutional sources.
Edwin then phrases the problem facing the Armed Forces in this wise: "do the officers and men of the Armed Forces just grin and bear [it] when their professionalism appears threatened?"
My own answer to that is: Why, Yes — if we assume that the next step beyond grin-and-bear is turn-against-the-commander-in-chief. Let’s face it: "appears" is too iffy to justify anything other than recourse to the usual grievance process. But if what we mean is for aggrieved officers and men to course their grievances through the appropriate channels, then the answer, of course, is No.
But I’m afraid that Edwin’s argument, in full, is ultimately based on the first assumption: Our officers and men shoudn’t just grin and bear it; they should in fact challenge the President’s authority as commander-in-chief. Edwin couches his argument in legal terms:
I think the answer lies beyond a mere restatement of the cited constitutional provisions and demands a conceptual overhauling of the constitutional thinking and interpretation of the commander-in-chief clause.
He then proceeds to an enlightening discussion of the roots of the constitutional provisions, comparing ours with those of the American charter. But somehow, Edwin fails to consider the fundamental rationale of the commander-in-chief provision itself: The reason such an awesome power is vested in the head of government is because we follow the hallowed principle of civilian supremacy over the military.
That principle, I maintain, is central to the democratic experience.
Edwin argues that
when the commander-in-chief clause is invoked, it always refers to the president’s use of military forces to perform a public good when a danger is clear and present or to conduct military campaigns and hostilities towards enemies of the state to preserve the integrity of the national territory
I would think that he is right, up to a point, but what he has actually done is to give some examples of what the President can do as commander-in-chief. That list of examples cannot be exhaustive, because the principle of civilian supremacy over the military means just what it says: A civilian is in command of the Armed Forces. (And yes, even tactically, if the precedents set by Abraham Lincoln are any guide.)
At this point, Edwin refines his original problem, to one of the "arbitrary" use of the commander-in-chief provision.
does the commander-in-chief clause likewise extend to arbitrary decisions of appointing a fellow not recommended by the professional Board of Generals on the basis of political expediency?
Again, my own answer would be: Yes.
I do not know the full story of the latest appointment snafu. On the face of it, the President’s confusing decisions do seem to be political. But "political expediency" cuts both ways. If it is true that Bagasing’s recommendation was withdrawn because another division commander wanted the job, it is also true that the appointment of Adan, the AFP’s third-highest general, is effectively a demotion (SouthCom commanders only wear two stars). (You see, as with any organization, there is politics inside the military too, as any officer will attest.) In other words, and if earlier news reports are true, the final decision was to not choose the one who wanted it most. A political compromise in a professional organization? Certainly. An arbitrary decision? Probably. But a reason to invite the Armed Forces to turn against the President? Hardly.
Let’s backtrack a bit: Does Edwin in fact suggest that the Armed Forces challenge the President on this decision, even to the point of turning against her? It may only be me, but that is the only way I can read his ringing conclusion.
Thus, if the president acts in a manner totally alien and beneath the standards of professionalism required under the mandates of the armed forces as well as the 1987 Constitution, does the military have the right to act in self-defense to protect its own integrity and eventual survival? Like any juridical or natural entity following the immutable laws of nature which man-made deeds like the constitution must abide by, the inevitable answer must be a yes. Adherence to authority is one thing but blind adherence is what has already been proscribed in the Nuremberg Principles and should find no basis in a professional army.
Now what else can that mean? I read Edwin to say that Adan’s appointment is inimical to the very "integrity and eventual survival" of the Armed Forces, and that a professional army such as ours should not display "blind adherence" to the President’s controversial decision. Therefore …
I found myself greatly disturbed by this reasoning, because it appears to be an encouragement to anyone in the military aggrieved by the latest controversy to take on the President — and thus the very principle of civilian supremacy — directly.
It cannot be. Regardless of our own views of the President, it cannot be. A professional army must take the good with the bad; to even suggest otherwise, to hint that soldiers are free to disregard orders they regard as political or arbitrary or inimical, is to attack the very sense of professionalism that makes the military.
In a democratic setting, that sense is informed by the principle of civilian supremacy. If a soldier, or an officer, feels aggrieved by a particular order, the solution is not to undermine the chain of command; it is to work through it, or to step outside it.