Or how the injunction to kneel before the tanks that fateful Sunday afternoon 20 years ago is being given short shrift these days, at a time when failed mutineers elect themselves as agents of change because of the arms they bear — plus a few words on the delicate dance of Randy and Karina David, husband and wife
The following news item, from today’s Metro pages (Metropolitan Manila, of course, as our friends in the provinces occasionally remind us), may make some of us jumpy. The container van full of explosives may have nothing to do with attempted coups (dynamite fishing is brutal but lucrative, or so I am told). Still, the news is enough to make us wonder about a possible February surprise — and the actual plans of restless officers who have little popular support and less capacity for governance.
A long time ago, when the military leadership was very much a part of civilian government (officers running public corporations, retired generals calling the shots in government agencies, and so on), the middle forces carefully followed the narrow and winding path of non-violence. As we in my college student government phrased our understanding of it: "ubos-lakas laban sa dahas" [loosely: fight violence, with all our strength].
I am distressed to find that, 20 years onward, violence seems to be an acceptable option for some of those I would consider natural heirs of the same middle forces. Out of frustration over someone we have consistently underestimated, we find ourselves overcompensating, by flirting with the tantalizing possibility of a swift, armed seizure of power. On a practical level, it doesn’t make sense. If it happens, it will certainly be armed, but it will neither be swift nor successful. On the level of principle, a violent strike is fatally inconsistent with democracy. We rail against the President for stealing the elections, and then we turn around and embrace the very violence that negates the very idea of the vote.
I think what made Edsa 1 "happen," 20 years ago, is precisely the renunciation of violence, as a strategy. (Make no mistake; blood was shed during the first flourish of People Power, and four rockets were fired at Malacanang, and five loyalist helicopters parked in Villamor Airbase destroyed. These incidents, however, were, well, incidental; they were a part of the truth of the situation, but only a small part.)
Which brings me to the unusual Randy and Karina show last Sunday. In his weekly column, which he probably wrote early on Saturday, Randy dwelt on the role of the military in politics. I think on the whole he struck a balanced note, but I must say his first paragraph gave me serious pause.
EVERY time we allow politicians to steal elections with impunity, to rule without accountability, to rob the public coffers routinely, and to lie brazenly — we are creating the conditions for military intervention. Professional armies go hand in hand with strong democracies. We are not a strong democracy; that is why the temptation to play the military card remains strong. Yet, even in the most desperate circumstances, there is no assurance that the public will automatically welcome military intervention. Much depends on the clarity with which the military defines the provisional extraordinary role it claims for itself, as well as on the trust that the people are willing to repose on their soldiers. Trust is earned.
Much depends? That seems to me dangerously close to being words of encouragement for military interventionists. But that is not my point, at least not in this post. On the same day, Sunday, Karina was also in the papers, this time in the news columns. As the keynote speaker in Saturday’s controversial alumni homecoming at the Philippine Military Academy, Karina gave what was generally regarded as a well-applauded speech. Her topic: the role of the military in politics.
The Inquirer’s report carried the following excerpt from her speech: "The challenge to all of us as Filipinos is how to create a strong and legitimate political system that makes military intervention unnecessary; [a system] that allows the military to simply become a professional corps."
But I do recall reading, perhaps in a wire story last Saturday, a longer story on Karina’s speech. One passage, I distinctly remember reading, carried the same pithy line we read in Randy’s first paragraph: "Professional armies go hand in hand with strong democracies." When I read that, I thought, How interesting. The civil servant (and as chair of the Civil Service Commission Karina is the country’s chief civil servant) studiously kept to the neutral path; she did not go beyond the line drawn by that key sentence. The intellectual (one of the country’s most eminent, no less) took more risks in his thinking, because he could.