Reconstituting Democracy

Much was expected of the Aquino administration. It was anticipated that the government would revive the institutions of democracy abrogated by Marcos in 1972; however, Filipinos also expected the government to take steps to eradicate economic and social inequities. The government promised to reinstate democracy ‘but there were no specific social and economic programs that were identified to accomplish the goal of democratisation’ (Lapitan 1989:238).

Aquino assumed office with a provisional government under a provisional constitution. This meant that both legislative and executive power was vested in the president until a new constitution was enacted. With the promulgation of a new constitution on 11 February 1987, a new era dawned for democracy in the Philippines. The constitution, which has many similarities with the 1935 American-inspired constitution, has a number of important provisions for the armed forces. Most important of all is the stipulation that active duty officers cannot participate in government.

As promised, elections for all government offices were held throughout the islands under the new constitution by mid 1987. But similarities to the pre-Marcos era were clearly evident as many candidates elected to office were ‘former elected officials, relatives of powerful political families and/or members of the powerful economic elite’ (Hawes 1989:72). Nevertheless, the elections were competitive and all citizens had the franchise.

Educating the military (which had voted overwhelmingly to reject the constitution) to democratic principles, became one of the issues to be addressed by the ‘new’ AFP chief of staff, General Ramos. A Training Command was established on 10 December 1986 to coordinate a range of programs to reform the armed forces (Selochan 1990:193). The principal objective of these programs was to restore the tarnished image of the AFP, improve morale and, under a value-formation course, teach the military to respect human rights. Little interest was taken in teaching the military about the need to adhere to democracy.

This did not change even when Marcos supporters and disaffected military elements joined with RAM on July 1986 to stage the first attempted coup against Aquino. It was not until three attempts had been made to seize power, largely by RAM and its supporters, between July 1986 and August 1987, and after PMA cadets had shown a willingness to join in the putsch, that any attempt was made to conduct courses for the AFP on the military’s role in a democracy (Selochan 1991a:109). Soon after the first coup attempt notices began appearing at all military establishments and courses were taught at the PMA on democracy. Debates about the military’s role in a democracy were conducted in the media as retired officers became columnists, arguing for and against the necessity for the AFP to uphold democracy under Aquino. Politicians were invited to talk to soldiers, and seminars on democracy were conducted for AFP personnel. Suddenly, democracy was an issue in the AFP.

Rhetoric, however, differed from reality as elements in the armed forces, backed by politicians and business groups which had profitted under the authoritarian regime and were now unable to acquire the same privileges, were implicated in four further attempts to seize political power. The alliance of politicians and business reflected a common economic interest (Wurfel 1989:681). The factions they supported in the military, however, were incapable of convincing the majority of the AFP that they would benefit from a return to authoritarian rule.

When her term in office ended on 30 June 1992, Aquino proudly claimed that she had achieved her objective of restoring democracy to the Philippines. Elections were scheduled for 11 May 1992. With seven candidates running for the presidency, there were expectations that the military might again attempt to seize power. In fact, however, the elections were peaceful and former AFP chief of staff, General Ramos, was elected to the presidency. Aquino had been confident that democracy was now firmly in place. In her valedictory state of the nation address in June 1992 she said: ‘This is the glory of democracy … that its most solemn moment should be the peaceful transfer of power’.