The Armed Forces of the Philippines in the Politics of Today

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  • Topic: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Joseph Estrada, Corazon Aquino
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The Armed Forces of the Philippines
in the Politics of Today
“Now the general is the bulwark of the State; if the bulwark is complete at all points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak” - Sun Tzu (Giles, 1910). I. Introduction

The year 1986 opened the door to a new era of military interventions in Philippine politics. The EDSA People Power Revolt showcased a total makeover in the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) image, evolving from an armed forces subservient to a 20-year dictatorship (Selochan, 1989:1) to an armed forces dubbed as the “protector of the Filipino people[i]” (De Leon, 2005: 47-49). However, barely four months after installing President Corazon C. Aquino in office, various elements in the military – Marcos loyalists, Guardians, and the RAM-SFP-YOU staged four successive failed coup attempts and two aborted coup plots from July 1986 to August 1987 (Selochan, 1989:11-15). Then again, in December 1989, just when civilian authority over the military seemed to have already been functioning, another failed coup attempt was launched, which almost toppled down the presidency. After a decade of calm at the close of the century, the AFP barged once more into the political limelight when former AFP Chief of Staff Gen Angelo Reyes, along with the commanders of the Army, Navy and the Air Force, unexpectedly withheld their support from their Commander-in-Chief at the height of EDSA Dos, which eventually forced the former president to leave Malacanang (Trillanes, 2004:14). Nevertheless, not all military interventions end in its favor, such as the July 2003 Oakwood incident, which ended in the detention and the filing of various administrative and criminal charges against about 300 officers and enlisted personnel. In 2006, an alleged aborted coup by a grand alliance among the CPP-NPA, the political opposition, and a number of military and PNP officers resulted in the declaration of a State of Emergency (Asian Political News, 2006) and the filing of a rebellion complaint against forty-nine (49) people, including a former senator and three (3) military and police generals (Asian Political News, 2006). In every case, mutinous forces had defied the government and had used its arms as a means of leverage against the political leadership in power. The five (5) coup attempts during the Aquino presidency left a total of 154 people dead and 812 wounded (Trillanes, 2004: 8-13). In the 1989 coup attempt alone, the economy lost by as much as P 1 billion (Davide, 1990: 378). Consequently, it seriously damaged the restoration of democracy and derailed the economy during President Aquino’s watch. ''We had been able to get the economy recovering but unfortunately with the 1989 coup attempt investments which had been ready to come to the Philippines suddenly were cancelled and investors had decided to go to other countries instead,'' Aquino said (Asian Political News, 2006). For the past two decades, military interventions have occurred continually and have remained a constant threat to the civilian-ruled government. In fact, a number of military interventions have been politically decisive in unseating, destabilizing, and installing Presidents. Fortunately, none of the interventions ended in direct military rule, nonetheless, does it mean that military interventions cease as soon as a new leadership is installed? Contrary to traditional assumptions, the military has not totally abstained from politics. In practice, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is not purely apolitical[ii], rather it is an active political force that persistently intervenes, though in varying forms and degrees, in government politics. Claude Emerson Welch, Jr., in his theory on civilian control of the military, posited:

…Civilian control is a matter of degree. All armed forces participate in politics in various fashions. They cannot be...
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