ON THE OAKWOOD MUTINY AND THE BIGGER COUP PLOT

Akbayan Executive Committee,  August 9, 03

 It has been two weeks since the Oakwood mutiny of some junior officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines jolted the nation and its major institutions. A day-long drama, seen and heard live through the media, the Oakwood stake out was brought to an end by the Macapagal-Arroyo administration by means of a combination of compromises and threats of military assaults. Since then, material evidences and witnesses have been lined up by the government to show that the junior officers revolt was but a part of a larger coup design with a civilian component. The President has declared a state of rebellion to pursue the remaining plotters and completely crush their network.

 A series of political and military decisions were announced by Malacanang to deal swiftly and decisively with the security threat. All the mutineers, not only the five ringleaders, were detained and charged before the military court, despite howls of protest from the latter that this violated their compromise agreement with the administration. The Feliciano commission was set up to probe deeper into the mutiny and the bigger coup plot. Two suspected leaders of the civilian component of the coup plot, Sen. Gregorio Honasan and Ramon “Eki” Cardenas were charged before a civilian court of conspiring to launch a coup d’tat against the government.

 All these measures were taken to bring normalcy back to the national situation as fast as possible. Yet, the nation continues to be gripped by strong feelings of insecurity and uncertainty.

Mixed sentiments greeted the mutiny. Shadows of a coup which enveloped the mutiny aroused fears of a military junta. And  ugly silhouettes of ambitious politicians appearing in its backdrop, particularly those associated with the fallen Marcos and Estrada regimes, only served to cast doubts on the purity of the rebels’ intentions. But the junior officers’ cries against corruption and the anomalous conduct of the leaders of the military and Defense establishments in the Mindanao war could not but elicit strong sympathies from the public long disgusted with scandalous corruption and misdeeds in government.

 President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was probably just sounding tough and confident to immediately dispel the jitters when she said that the shocks caused by the mutiny were “just a blip (on) the screen that does not forebode instability” (PDI, July 30). Otherwise, the government and the nation as a whole would be in more serious trouble. Indeed, the Oakwood rebellion was overcome in less than 24 hours. But the malignancy ran deep into the

political system and state of society. Just when everybody was thinking that coup d’tat and military rebellions were a thing of the past—14 years passed since the 1989 coup- the junior officers mutiny broke out. Again, the rebellion was led by young, very intelligent, promising and more importantly, idealist officers coming from the elite military institute of the country—the Philippine Military Academy. Again, segments of the elite opposition were linked to the rebellion as financial supporters and political backers but it would be a mistake to reduce the mutiny to being a mere handiwork of politicians.

 The way out of the deepening morass can only begin by a recognition that the measures taken by the government so far—firmer punishment of the military rebels, a bigger budget for the soldiers’ welfare, prosecution of civilian supporters, and setting up another commission of inquiry—can no longer, ever suffice. Even the Davide Commission, a body formed in 1990 to look into the deeper causes of the seven coup d’tat which troubled the Aquino presidency after EDSA 1, went beyond these prescriptions to propose broader military, political and social reforms.

 More radical steps are needed. The malignancy has worsened. Despite the anti-corruption and good governance promise of EDSA 2, the corruption the junior officers decry has only become bigger and more scandalous, and governance on the whole remains sick with poor accountability, bad planning and inefficiency. Against the promise of democracy by EDSA 1, the political inclusion of the working masses, the Moro and other indigenous peoples, and the women into the EDSA political set-up has moved very little and at an extremely slow pace. And the economic and social balance sheet since EDSA 1 has turned negative as the neo-liberal globalization development policies of successive administrations—Aquino, Ramos, Estrada and now, Macapagal-Arroyo- engendered more joblessness, misery, peasant and fisher ruin, harassment and discrimination against women, and other indices of class, gender and ethnic marginalization.

 Nothing can portray the crisis of the EDSA regimes more dramatically than two distressing developments: first, the rising hopelessness over the future of the country among the young and the talented and the more enterprising among the working people; and second, the growing roots of cynical populism among the poor which makes them vulnerable to charismatic and strongmen politicos, no matter how corrupt, fascistic or incompetent they are. 

 Sad to say that even the Davide Commission recommendations and the “defend the space, promote reforms” line of some of our civil society stalwarts now look and sound effete. On the other hand, nothing good can be expected from the traditional elite opposition. It is profoundly bankrupt. It is as systemically corrupt as the ruling parties. It can no longer offer the people anything beyond the usual carping about the mistakes of the ruling party, making capital out of the impoverishment of the majority of the people, and courting the favors of the fallen Marcos and Estrada cliques.  

The traditional Left offers no relief either. It says that in principle, it is against a coup. But its stance and body language betrays a liking for the coup and a desire to make political hay out of it. The truth is, despite its high-sounding rejection of coup d’tat, the extremist Left shares two outstanding attributes with all coup plotters through the years: the principal reliance on armed violence and the conspiratorial actuations. Its political critique uses revolutionary language but so unlike the inspiring revolutionary calls of the past, it only worsens the sense of despair and cynicism now debilitating the popular mindset.  

The junior officers revolt springs from legitimate grievances and authentic aspirations for reform both in the military and the larger society, no matter how raw and inadequate their articulations are. But military putschism is not and can never be the means to reform society and change the government for the better. Military conspiracies exist and thrive outside the pale of public scrutiny and accountability. They put themselves above the people, knowing no other sovereign but themselves. As such, they are given to dictatorial arrogance, extremist solutions and human rights abuses. No amount of sublime purposiveness, self-discipline and righteous benevolence can countervail their basically undemocratic character.  

The massive corruption the junior officers rebelled against can only be drastically reduced and then completely removed by subjecting every government decision and operation to the requirements of public transparency and public accountability. The misdeeds and misconduct of the military high command and the Defense leadership in  the Mindanao war which they denounced can only thrive in the highly elitist and personalistic processes and culture of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  The poverty and all the social ills cited in what was reputedly their “bible”, a so-called “National Recovery Program” being promoted by the ex-coup leader turned politician Senator Honasan, are rooted in the centuries-old economic, political and social exclusion of the working people, the indigeneous people and women in general. In sum, the answer to the problems they invoked for launching an open rebellion is more democracy, not less democracy which military putschism can only lead to.  

It can be assumed that the Oakwood rebels traced the legitimacy of their revolt to their successful military forebears of EDSA 1 and EDSA 2. The young mutineers should have borne in mind that the reason why the earlier military rebels succeeded is that they made themselves part of the popular action, the People Power uprisings. Other military rebellions failed because they moved outside of the legitimating processes of popular action, the sovereign exercise of democracy by the people. Any arrogant revision of history in this respect will lead to costly failures like what Enrile and later, Honasan suffered. The junior officers also did their cause a disservice by linking up with the bankrupt and corrupt elite opposition.  

The junior officers’ revolt failed but it highlighted once again the urgency of undertaking sweeping reforms within the military establishment and the government as a whole. Crises beget opportunities. The whole process of inquiry into the depth of corruption, political conspiracies and demoralization within the military and Defense establishment must allow senior as well as middle level officers and the rank and file, especially those in the frontlines to speak up. The initiative ought not to be left to the Feliciano commission alone or to the committee hearings of both houses of Congress. The people must get more involved. Civil society organizations must not only actively participate in the investigative hearings. They can link up with the political parties, the Churches, the media and the academe to convene a national dialogue as a parallel effort to look deeply into the problems of the military and find out the necessary measures to reform the security sector.  

Remedies to recurring military rebellions must go beyond discovering formulas for depoliticizing the Philippine military. The military establishment cannot be insulated from the larger society. For civilian supremacy to find enduring acceptance, the crisis of governance of the EDSA order must be resolved. Lasting solutions to this crisis must represent a genuinely radical break from those offered by elite trapos, the cynical populists, the military putschists and the traditional Left. The solutions, in other words, lie on widening and deepening our democracy, on making it inclusive of all the people from all walks of life, on  ensuring that all government decisions are transparent and  accountable to the people. In short, a real participatory democracy is what is needed to overcome the crisis and unify the nation.