A Professional Army: The Best Defense Against Destabilization

M. A. P. Insights
Jaime S. de los Santos

Posted on May 02, 2017

During the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) General Membership meeting last March 28, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando “Say” M. Tetangco, Jr. and USAID TRADE Project Chief of Party & Ateneo Professor Dr. Cielito “Ciel” Habito gave insightful presentations on the Philippine economy’s exemplary performance in 2016, and an equally robust picture for 2017. The solid and remarkable results happened in spite of bad publicity perpetrated by both local and international media, alleged extrajudicial killings, and sometimes, off-the-cuff statements of the President. Despite all the brouhaha, foreign direct investments continue to spur the financial markets.

Since these headline-grabbers are now proven to be nonissues, the greater concern that must be addressed and understood is the alleged report of destabilization. It will be recalled that the series of coup attempts under the Cory Aquino administration greatly affected the business environment at that time. We cannot afford to have any such attempts or even rumors of such if we are to maintain the momentum of a promising economy.

In the light of the Philippine Army’s 120th year anniversary last March 22, there is even more reason to provide an understanding of this unacceptable scenario. Can the Philippine Army tolerate, contain, neutralize, or even extinguish such as an imaginary or real threat?

Destabilization hogged the headlines in March, with accusations and counter-accusations exacerbating the already heated arguments. The word itself rings bells, and raises alarms, vestiges of so many plots and attempts since the 1980s. It is very disturbing, because the mere mention of such a sinister move puts the nation in an uncertain and apprehensive mode. It is bad publicity, it has the capability to throw us back to the dark old days. And none of us, no one of us, would like that at all.

To better understand the issue, it is important to be familiar with certain basic concepts of a coup d’état, defined by Merriam-Webster as “a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics; especially, the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group, a military coup d’état of the dictator.”

Among the major reasons invoked in a coup d’etat are erosion of trust in the national government, political differences, widespread corruption, nepotism, deterioration of social justice, constitutional infirmities, among others. A military coup seeks to address these reasons or problems with the objective of restoring political stability, good governance, better management and administration of the bureaucracy, installation of a new leader, and neutralization of terrorism and insurgency.

Concomitant with these causes, military coup can also happen due to other triggers, including the personal ambition of coup leaders; democratic institutions are assailed and made inutile; and marginalization of the military, particularly when their resources, support and professionalism are threatened.

Furthermore, a coup will only prosper with the assistance and intervention of the masses, and a military-type force generating a critical mass. Without both military and civilian support, it will be a failure. A coup uses instruments of government to seize control of the state. Its ultimate aim is to derail permanent employees of the state from the political leadership.

If we take these conditions and apply them to the present political architecture, it is evident that the destabilization plot will never prosper. It will be extinguished even before it starts. The major reason is the professional character of the Army and the leadership in all levels in the chain of command. The protest actions being staged by students, labor, and other interest groups are within the limits of the democratic space. It is the CPP-NPA, Mindanao terrorists & separatist movements and international terrorist groups that pose the greatest threat to destabilization. The military so far is the beneficiary of a very supportive Commander-in-Chief and an encouraging budget that addresses the welfare needs of the soldier, especially the needs of the family. This has resulted in improved performance arising from enhanced morale, esprit de corps and operational efficiency.

One of the traditions of the Army anniversary has been the annual dinner in honor of all living Commanding Generals on the eve of Army Day. I have always looked forward to this occasion, not only for the celebratory reason but more so for the continuity of tradition and the opportunity to stay in touch with the institution that had been my life for more than three decades.

Every year is always a new experience, and in my collective recollection and serious assessment, the present Army is strong, dynamic, and highly professional organization, and on track with its vision of a world class army that is a source of national pride by 2028. It is an Army commanded with excellence as projected by its leaders standing shoulder-to-shoulder on all levels of the chain of command.

According to Samuel Huntington, military professionalism and professionals satisfy three major components namely; expertise, responsibility, and corporateness. The present Army possesses the skills, knowledge, and more importantly the character, well-grounded in the art of war. The nation can expect the military establishment to give a good account of itself, whether in the prevention of conflict or in its successful termination and solution should such a conflict arise.

The Army is very much aware of its commitment to the nation and to the Filipino people. The soldier is always at the ready, maintaining poise and equanimity, even at times when the service and the sacrifice are almost forgotten or even relegated to the back-burner, after a crisis is solved or when times are peaceful. The Army professionals have served and will continue to serve faithfully in good times and bad times, and everything in between.

Corporateness implies a sense of community. The soldier is aware that even as he/she belongs to the military institution, it is only one component of a national community that necessarily acts in synchronicity with other various components to achieve unity and harmony.

Above all, the soldier is a person of loyalty, bound by an oath of service, pledged to offer life and limb for peace to reign, for our nation to flourish. The Philippine Army of the 21st century lives up to its history, and to the values of valor, honor, integrity and service.

The Army is founded on and commanded with excellence. Excellent command is predicated on the effective application of leadership to enhance esprit de corps, which can make ordinary men accomplish seemingly impossible tasks. The excellent leadership of the Army has driven the men and women to achieve the highest standards of performance. The field and combat commanders are all battle-tested, having passed through the rigors, hardships, and sacrifices in training and in actual battlefield conditions. By their excellence in leadership, they have generated a new breed of soldiers with competence, character, and commitment. The Army of today is driven by the passion and dedication of every soldier, armed with the will to fight and to win. With an Army that is focused on fulfilling its mandate and securing the people and the land, no destabilization will see the light of day.

The question must be asked though: Where then will a destabilization plot come from? And who will want to be part of it? I hazard an educated guess: such a plot will be espoused and pushed by the political spoiled brats who have ruled the country for too long and treated government coffers as their personal funds. They with a mental mind-set and illusion that they are the instruments of divine intervention, and that they and only they hold the destiny of this nation. They are wrong, once again.

Part of the plot, then and now, is to dangle a lot of promises to our soldiers in the form of salary increases and benefits. While such additional support is most welcome, the soldier is not one to be dazzled by promises or projections. History has taught the man and woman in uniform that there is a thorough and proper process for all these, one that is part of the entire fabric that they protect and safeguard.

The Philippine Army has come a long way, not just since its inception 120 years ago, but since the coups and counter coups of decades ago. Strong and steady is the Army, and as long as that fighting spirit is intact and whole, any coup attempt is nil. A professional army is the strongest antidote to any destabilization move, and the Philippine Army of today is as professional and proficient as you can get.

The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines.

Jaime S. de los Santos is a member of the M.A.P. National Issues Committee, the 42nd Commanding General of the Philippine Army, the 1st Force Commander of the UN Peacekeeping Force in East Timor, presently part-time Professorial Lecturer at UP Diliman. and Director for Graduate Studies at the Manuel L. Quezon University (MLQU).