By Jennifer Santiago Oreta
Members of the security sector, as citizens, have the right to choose the candidate they desire. But as members of the force, they are expected to be silent as to which candidate they support or not during elections. This is because it is the security sector – the police and military — who are tasked to ensure that elections are credible, honest, orderly, and peaceful. If members of the security sector are actively partisan during the campaign season, the credibility of their agency will be compromised, and consequently the integrity of the elections will be questioned.
Per my observation, a significant number of our police and military are very much involved in the campaign — not just in declaring their chosen candidates, but also in criticizing, sometimes using foul and colorful language to malign other candidates. A case in point — a presidential candidate is accused of having a connection with the underground movement, the New People’s Army. This issue is not new — it surfaced a couple of years back, alleging that the official was a member of the NPA, and a picture of her alleged wedding with an NPA cadre was even peddled on social media. The allegation was fabricated. No evidence has ever been produced to support this claim. It was fake news.
This campaign season, the same piece of fake news has re-surfaced. Another issue, an alleged sex video, is even appended, this time targeting the daughter of the same candidate. Both cases are cybercrimes, the latter also a violation of the Safe Spaces Act. What is disturbing is that among those who peddle and share this fake news are active members of the police and military. Instead of investigating, some members of the police trumpet the information like gospel truth. This is disturbing since the police is the primary instrument of the state to enforce the law, its core competency is to investigate and file cases against law breakers. It is the agency that gives a premium on evidence in ascertaining the “truth.” If some members of the police are peddlers of fake news, some of which are clearly cybercrimes, and if the institution does nothing and thus remains complicit, then the agency’s professionalism must be questioned.
Another issue that dominates the discursive space this campaign season is the issue of human rights, the Achilles heel of the security sector. Coming out of the martial law experience where the military and police were used by the dictator to stay in power, to silence the opposition, and to subvert democratic processes, the security sector’s ethics, norms, and competence suffered gravely, not to mention the negative public image that resulted. The post-1986 EDSA era saw both agencies painstakingly going through rigorous reform processes to remove the vestiges of martial law, promote good governance and professionalism, and instill human rights principles in the norms and core imperatives of the organizations. The reform process is still incomplete, but both agencies have made significant progress. One therefore would expect the military and police to be at the forefront of human rights and good governance discourse, given the scrupulous process that these institutions went through over the years.
It is thus surprising that several members of the military and police favor the candidate with an unconvincing platform on human rights, not to mention being himself embroiled with the issue of human rights violation of his late father during the martial law period. The father committed the abuses, and the son has not shown any remorse nor asked for an apology for the infractions that his father and his family have committed. Far worse is the attempt of the candidate’s camp to re-write history, to gloss over the abuses and corruption, and to portray the martial law period as a “golden era,” even though its human rights violations and corruption are documented and affirmed by court rulings. The candidate is even promising a return of the “new society” that his father promoted, using the same songs and symbolism of the time. A critical observer understands that these moves are a clear affront and insult to the hard work that the military and police institutions have done to reform their respective institutions.
Logic says we choose the candidate that reflects our values, the leader whom we can emulate, and who can be the role model of our children. If the chosen leader of several members of the police and military has dubious background, doubtful values, and if his standards are not aligned with the principles of good governance, we need to ask, “why him?”
If this candidate wins, how will it impact the reform process, especially in mainstreaming human rights and good governance values in the security sector? How can the candidate be a role model if his own track record in promoting the rule of law is itself unimpressive?
Our foreign security allies are strong advocates of human rights — how will they regard the presidency of the candidate who talks about the martial law period as a golden era, despite court rulings recognizing the massive corruption and human rights abuses of the period?
The same candidate, together with his mother, has a contempt judgement issued by a US Court in 1995 in connection with the human rights class suit filed against his father. If he wins the elections, how will the US, our major security partner under the Mutual Defense Treaty, regard his Presidency, especially if the candidate can’t even set foot on US soil due to his human rights court case? How will the members of the European Union, our major trading and security allies who are also staunch advocates of human rights, consider his administration?
I sincerely hope that our security sector will always stand by the principles of their respective institutions — honor, integrity, patriotism. I hope their members will always be on the side of good governance and human rights; and choose leaders who, together with them, will be true defenders of the state and the Filipino people. And I hope that on election day, our military and police will truly ensure the integrity and honesty of the process.
Jennifer Santiago Oreta, PhD is a faculty member of the Department of Political Science of the Ateneo de Manila University, and Coordinator of the Ateneo Initiative for Southeast Asian Studies.