Philippine military - a growing force in social . . . and political life
When Filipinos discuss the perennial question of President Ferdinand Marcos's successor, they usually mention the President's wife, Imelda, ministers like Defense Secretary Juan Ponce-Enrile or Labor Minister Blas Ople, or an institution - the military.Skip to next paragraph
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On the face of it, a government run or influenced by the military would break with Filipino tradition. Like its former colonizer, the United States, the Philippines has tended to have a strictly professional and apolitical military establishment.
But, in fact, the tradition has already been broken. Ten years of martial law in the Philippines (September 1972 to January 1981) transformed the military into a major force in social and political life.
Under martial law, military officers ran law courts, local governments, federal agencies, and quite a few companies formerly owned by members of the opposition. Some commanders of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) joined the inner circle of Marcos confidants and advisers.
They are still there today. Several generals remain probably the President's most trusted aides, while the military continues to be active in areas far removed from the usual purview of soldiers.
It was, for example, a committee of officers which invited some of the country's leading journalists, all of them regular critics of the government, to three- or four-hour dialogues late last year. The journalists say the dialogues in fact bordered on intimidation.
Several factors may make the military a political force to contend with:
* Its size, which almost tripled during martial law. In 1972 the combined forces of the AFP and the paramilitary Philippine Constabulary (PC) stood at 54, 000. Today they number 156,000. Ten years ago they were backed up by a paramilitary force - village-based home defense volunteers - of just 400 men. Today there are more than 60,000 home defense force volunteers throughout the country.
* Its scope. In the Philippines today there are probably only two institutions that spread down to the grass roots throughout the country: the Roman Catholic Church and the military. And in many places the two are at loggerheads. Civilian local government and grass-roots civilian politics have been slow to recover from the enforced inactivity of martial law.
* And its cohesion. There are of course rivalries inside the armed forces: between the various services, or between graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), the country's West Point, and the reserve officers, whom PMA graduates tend to look down on. Some officers are said to be frustrated by the preference they claim has been given to officers from the President's home province of Ilocos Norte.
But if there are any major political rifts inside the armed forces, they have been well hidden from outside eyes. And their cohesion is all the more striking when compared with Mr. Marcos' civilian supporters in his Movement for a New Society (known as Kilusang Bagong Lipunan or KBL in the national language, Tagalog). They are currently embroiled in a fight over the future of the prime minister, Cesar Virata.
Top military leaders seem totally devoted to the President, but they may not automatically transfer that devotion to a successor - even one handpicked by Marcos.
Two of the most influential military officers are relatives of the President: Gen. Fabian Ver, chief of staff, head of the Presidential Security Command, and director of the National Intelligence Board, is said to be an uncle of the President; the deputy chief of staff and commander of the Philippine Constabulary, Gen. Fidel Ramos, is reportedly a cousin.
Both were part of the small group of men who planned martial law, and both have accrued political power and experience since then. There are, however, signs that General Ver does not see eye to eye with another architect of martial law - and would-be successor to the President - Juan Ponce Enrile.
A source sympathetic to Mr. Enrile says there have been ''several attempts to drive a wedge between the President and Enrile.'' The wedge driver, the source suggested, was General Ver. And, the source continued, although General Ver is only chief of staff, he sometimes bypasses Mr. Enrile on important appointments.