Is a military junta tenable?

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Jaime S. de los Santos

M. A. P. Insights

Is a military junta tenable?

This article will not delve on the legal issues of implementing a military government. It will discuss the foundation of military culture and its response in cases when the political status quo is challenged.

In some of his public addresses, the President expressed his desire to resign. He has further stated that if this situation ever happens, one of the options is to establish and call for a military junta to take over the affairs of the government.

A military junta is a mode that establishes the takeover of governmental functions by a purely military structure or a military-civilian partnership. In both cases, the military authority generally prevails since it has the means to influence and control the situation. It sets the tone of leadership, decision making, and governance.

In a military junta, additional responsibilities are burdened and reposed in the military establishment apart from its traditional roles that include the administration of laws, resolving conflicts among social, political and economic groups, and domestic and foreign relations. It presupposes that it possesses added core competencies and the facilities to rapidly assume an immediate takeover because a lull will spawn emerging conflicting groups to contest any takeover.

The value of the military establishment consists of both its core competence and core ideology. Core competence defines the AFP’s capabilities where the organization is usually good at. It is a strategic concept. The military’s core competence revolves around its use of force. They are experts in the application and management of conflict and violence. They are responsible in protecting the nation against external attacks, and the government and the people against internal violence.

The military is trained to obey orders that emanate from the Commander-in-Chief down to the chain of command. From the time they take their oath until they shed their uniform after retirement, their milieu is replete with an unquestioned obedience to command. Consciously or unconsciously, they will always follow orders to the latter.

Why is this value essential to a soldier? In war, “There is no substitute for victory,” said General Douglas MacArthur. Hesitation to act decisively in combat will result in a disastrous defeat. This mindset is greatly ingrained in every soldier.

The military’s institutional strength is based on cohesiveness, monopoly of force, and a stable organizational structure solidified by a chain of command. Another military character is a rigid decision-making process that cannot adjust fast enough to different modes of social, political, and economic developments.

Core ideology is defined as the enduring character of an organization, a consistent identity that transcends generations, technological developments, management innovation and even leadership personalities. Military ideology comprises the total mindset of the officers and noncommissioned corps towards society and politics.

According to the military scholar Samuel Huntington, the military profession has three characteristics, namely, expertise, social responsibility, and corporateness. Interpreted in more liberal terms, the core ideology of the military manifests stability and shuns compromises.

Are the core competencies and core ideology of the military institution enough to lead the government, if a military takeover ever happens? Government affairs can be too complicated to be assumed by an armed component.

During the Martial Law period of 1972-1981, the military had a taste of limited political governance exposure. But this assumption of civilian posting did very little for the military mindset to be challenged. Proofs of these are the two People Power revolutions. In both cases, the military all had the chances to easily grab power. Instead, they engineered the smooth transition to a new government.

This phenomenon only expresses that its core competence and core ideology remained intact, despite the wide latitude of options to take over the power structure when given the chance.

After Martial Law, only a handful of retired military personnel were drafted in civilian government, the highest being a Cabinet Secretary. The performance of these government positions had never been assertive nor imposing. They have remained true professionals. You cannot change a military culture overnight. Loyalty to duly constituted authority are deeply embedded in their value system. A military professional is always expected to carry out the commands of any civilian group that assumes legitimate authority from the state. The military establishment throughout history has always acquiesced to the control of the civilian political leadership. Civilian control has always responded positively to the direction of the civilian leaders of the government. By this nature of military-civilian leadership, the balance of power is assured.

If there are changes in the government outside of the constitutional process through a presidential fiat, the military may take over the executive, legislative, and judicial functions of the government. Some civilians consider any military intervention as illegitimate. By the very nature of this inherent burden, it is preposterous to assume a positive change.

One factor is acceptance. The society, currently populated with millennials who were brainwashed continuously with the negative effects of Martial Law even to the extent of disinformation, has been shaped with this mindset. Clash of generational mindsets will emerge with any option that is tainted with military character. Contending political parties will exhaust all means to ensure that their power will not be diluted.

Power corrupts, and every means to maintain and sustain it will be resorted to by any means. With this scenario, you are starting the new rule with a problem.

Patience is the least of the virtues of a military man. He craves for combat, for action, for active and positive leadership direction. If there is a change in governance outside the constitutional process, violence will erupt. Clash of political interests will emerge. Control will be unpredictable. Military patience may taunt the soldier to use force that may create disorder if civilians challenge their authority. The military might interpret noncooperation and nonconformance as a threat to their newly found role. Threat can feed anger which will escalate into physical confrontation and clash of forces in the streets. Alienation from the people is a strong argument against military rule.

Another mode is military-civilian partnership where important legislative and judicial functions will continue to function with military supervision. This happened during Martial Law wherein military superiors were posted and assigned in essential government agencies and industries. It was effective for a while by transferring military expertise and efficiency into the bureaucracy. It further restored order and discipline and the concept of a law-abiding citizen to society. The factors and situation during that time are far different now.

The President has been very generous and overly gracious to the men in arms. Increase in their salaries has upgraded their social status in society. The newly found position has given them more dignity and honor worthy of being identified as a military professional.

On a personal note, therefore, they can never be coerced or intimidated to initiate the establishment of a military junta.

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


Jaime S. de los Santos is a member of the MAP National Issues Committee and the Chairman and CEO of PMA Alumni Association, Inc.