Abrogating Democracy

A civilian politician, Ferdinand Marcos, was elected president in 1965. Marcos, who claimed a distinguished career as a guerilla fighter during World War II (later disproved), courted the AFP while he was a congressman, but was generally believed to be suspicious of the AFP, which was rumoured to be planning to seize power in 1965. These rumours were taken seriously by many including the Garcia administration, as there was a series of successful coups in Asia during this period. Concerned about the military’s political ambition and believing that a closer relationship with senior officers would serve his long-term interests, Marcos retained the Defense portfolio for the first thirteen months of his administration. During this period he reshuffled the officer corps, promoting officers favourable to his political agenda and retiring others less amenable. The military was subsequently enlisted to assist in his re-election campaign. Marcos became the first Philippine president to be re-elected in what became one of the most violent and fraudulent elections in the country’s history. Increasingly during his second term he became dependent on the AFP to remain in office. To serve the interests of the president, the military harassed the opposition and violently quelled demonstrations against the government.

Constitutionally prevented from remaining in office for a third term, Marcos declared martial law in 1972, with the consent of the military, under the pretext of saving the country from Communist and Muslim insurgencies. Martial law allowed the AFP to play a larger role in government. Because democracy was so easily abrogated it has been argued that it had not in fact taken root in the Philippines. But then, ‘A democratic constitution does not make a democracy; only democratic, constitutional behaviour that follows a long period of experience and education can truly constitute democracy’ (Gastil 1985:161). Although the 1935 constitution had enshrined democratic principles and structures of government, political practice differed considerably from the theory (Reyes 1988:268).

Marcos argued that the democratic system would not allow him to develop the ‘New Society’ he envisaged for the Philippines. For him, the practice of democracy was ‘energy-consuming’ and ‘time-wasting’; authoritarian rule allowed him to make the changes he wanted without having to endure democratic procedures (Hernandez 1985:243). Under his self-styled constitutional-authoritarianism the institutions of democracy were dismantled: Congress was disbanded, political parties were declared illegal, and civil and political rights were sus-pended. Freedom, a fundamental tenet of democracy, was taken away from Filipinos. As commander-in-chief, Marcos directed the AFP to carry out martial law functions. The military was, according to the principles of democracy, to remain subservient to the civilian head of state. But the head of state had abrogated the constitution under which he was elected and which officers were sworn to uphold. Third World armed forces have typically justified seizing political power in terms of preserving the constitution and the nation. In the Philippines, however, the military was incapable of governing. Having played a large part in the Magsaysay administration, where it developed its abhorrance of civilian politicians, the AFP was willing to resume a role in government decision-making.

Martial law gave the military the opportunity to get rid of civilian politicians who they believed were self-serving and had little respect for the majority of the people. Junior officers found themselves performing duties for which they were not adequately trained. Reservist officers were considered more capable of performing civilian functions as they had acquired a more liberal education.

To better prepare PMA officers to perform martial law duties, Marcos shortened the cadetship and modified the academy’s curriculum in the early 1970s. Courses on democratic principles had still not been introduced to the Academy, but cadets were taught the concept of civilian supremacy over the military. Other significant changes to the curriculum included placing more emphasis on courses in the humanities as opposed to engineering. This, according to some officers, was designed to better equip cadets to work with civilians and in many cases to replace them. In fact, as martial law became entrenched in the Philippines, AFP officers replaced civilians in many government departments, and also in private corporations which Marcos sequestered from his opponents.

Martial law lasted from 1972 to 1981. These nine years had a profound effect on the society and the AFP. The AFP was no longer the protector of the nation. Instead, like a private army, it served Marcos and his cronies. Officers became deeply involved in politics as they rigged elections and suppressed the opposition. Self-interest led officers to pursue activities which lost them the respect of the people. And in turn the military lost its raison d’être. More concerned with government than military duties, the AFP was incapable of defeating the growing Communist and Muslim insurgencies; by 1985 the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) was claiming control over most of the barangays (villages) in the country. The AFP was even incapable of performing the functions of a conventional armed force in conjunction with American forces.

By and large the AFP remained loyal to an authoritarian civilian leader who satisfied its corporate interests and had no intention of restoring democracy. But some officers came to the conclusion that the prolonged period of martial law was working against the president. Widespread dissatisfaction among intellectuals and the middle-class finally surfaced after the 1983 assassination of popular opposition leader Benigno Aquino. Concurrently, factionalism developed in the military as the gap between those benefitting from the system and those fighting the insurgency in the war-torn areas of the countryside increased. The result was that soldiers lost interest in fighting the insurgents, who they believed were justified in their claims, though the military resented their ideology.

A consensus therefore developed among the senior military leadership that ‘if the country was to survive as a political system’, especially with the CPP/New Peoples Army rapidly gaining ground against the regime, Marcos had to be replaced (Lapitan 1989:237). These views were shared by secretary of defense, Juan Ponce Enrile, and AFP vice chief of staff, General Fidel Ramos. Plans to replace Marcos by a military coup were hastily abandoned when he suddenly announced on television that elections were to be held in February 1986. Surprisingly, the opposition was able to unite against Marcos, backing the widow of Benigno Aquino.

The battle to stop Marcos from cheating Aquino of victory and the defection of elements of the AFP, including General Ramos, culminated in what became popularly known as the ‘EDSA revolution’ of February 1986. Yet this was not the outcome envisaged by the senior military leaders who had conspired to replace Marcos. Defense Secretary Enrile had nurtured a group of reform-minded officers who shared some of his frustrations with the Marcos regime. These officers formed the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM). With Enrile, they planned to seize political power and install an interim military-civilian council. Aquino was considered a likely member of the council. But when the coup was discovered by Marcos, Enrile joined General Ramos at the armed forces headquarters in Manila and they declared their support for Corazon Aquino. People power resulted from this rebellion which saw the military conceding its desires for political office to Aquino.

The accession of Aquino to the presidency, however, did not stop elements in the military from conspiring to seize political power. Enrile’s actions while in the Aquino government, and his subsequent links to a number of the coup attempts, clearly demonstrated his – and the RAM faction’s – desire to have a continuing role in government. RAM believed that its claims to a place in government decision-making were justified because it was responsible for assisting Aquino to achieve office (Selochan 1989:8). Enrile also believed that his role in the rebellion against Marcos justified his having a greater role in decision-making. Vice-President Salvador Laurel shared a similar belief, having conceded his presidential ambitions in the interest of Aquino in 1985. Having united in their opposition to Marcos, divisions now appeared in the groups that were contending for power – a pattern common in countries that have experienced transition from authoritarian to democratic systems (Huntington 1991).