Paper Hats, Wooden Swords

by Juan L. Mercado

“At the age of 4, with paper hats and wooden swords, we’re all generals,” actor Peter Ustinov once said. “But some of us never outgrow it.”

Remember the four “Euro generals?”  Moscow International Airport customs nabbed them and their wives, on Oct. 11, 2008.  Silverio Alarcio, Jaime Caringal, Ismael Rafanan and Eliseo de la Paz, stashed P6.9 million worth of euros illegally. Will that fund their campaign for 2010 elective posts?

Anybody seen former General Panfilo Lacson?  No.  Not  “Ping’s” photo on International Police’s “Red Notice” list of fugitives on the lam.   Authorities want to question Lacson on the murder of PR man Salvador “Dacer and his driver in connection with BW stock payoffs.

And now General Victor Ibrado marches up. At Camp Nakar in Quezon, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff pinned Bronze Cross Medals on two Southern Luzon Command officers: Col. Aurelio Baladad, of the Army’s 202nd Brigade and Lt. Col. Jaime Abauag. 16th Infantry Battalion commander.

For  what?  They led heavily-armed  troops — in arresting  43 health workers in a Morong  seminar.  They delayed response to a Supreme  Court habeas corpus order. These were high-risk rebels, they claimed. Detainees were not mistreated, as left wing  groups say.

O.K. So the credentials of Bayan & Comrades are not gilt-edged.  But that can not be said of the formidable Human Rights Commission  chair,  Leila de Lima. Feet-dragging by the newly-bemedaled officers in presenting detainees to the Court adds insult to injury, she said.

“Inexcusable,” snapped presidential candidate Gilberto Teodoro. Tampering with a basic libertarian document, like the privilege of the writ,  “set dangerous precedents” for future habeas corpus orders, fumed Associate Justice Normandie Pizzaro.

Did the military thumb it’s nose again at the Judiciary?. Would a lowly colonel “dirty finger” a High Court order on his own?  Inquirer asked.  “Were you born yesterday?”

The  Court is  still to issue its resolution on charges of sabotaging the writ of habeas corpus, illegal arrest and detention.  Courtesy, let alone common  sense, dictated that.  Ibrado should have tamped down his itch to pin medals, at least until after the Courts ruled.  The constitutional axiom of civilian supremacy over the military, at the very least, includes that.

Was Ibrado less than bright then?   “Half of generals are dumb,” US President Harry Truman once snapped over nuking Chinese troops in Korean War debates.  “But that’s not a crime. Otherwise, half of them would be in jail.”

Ibrado dismissed torture charges as baseless. “Prove them,” he snorted, admittedly with panache of caudillos in Latin American  juntas.  But does this signal of a more  worrisome  trend?  Are we seeing resurgent and arrogant impunity?

Atrophied constitutional reflexes, as we learned during the Marcos dictatiorship,  will metastasize into jackboot disdain for  human liberties.  Distorted mind-sets , on Military Commission No. 2, sentenced former senator Benigno Aquino Jr. to death by musketry, even when civilian courts were operating.

Look also  at Burma’s brutal junta. In Thailand, liberties took a beating after Prapahullajom Khao (Bangkok’s version of the PMA) officers beat down dissenters.

President Manuel Quezon was ”wary of military involvement in politics,” Alfred  McCoy recalls in the Yale University  study: “Closer Than Brothers.” In 1936, Quezon set up Philippine Military in the pattern of the US’ West Point,  Britain’s Sandhurst and France’s St. Cyr.

PMA would “establish a corps of professional officers and thus deny control over the nation’s arsenals to political elites, whether nationalist attorneys from University of the Philippines or corporate executives from Ateneo.”

What does the track record show? 

PMA’s first graduates fought in World War II and hewed to the constitutional chain of command.  But Marcos uncorked the genie’s bottle.  No PMA class was more brutalized than Class ’71. “Among [its] 85 graduates… at least five practiced torture, six were murdered… They were the ultimate creatures of martial law.”   Lacson and Colonel, now Senator Gringo Honasan, are stars of this class. 

Ten generals and two civilians made up the “Rolex 12”. They helped  Marcos clamp on martial law. Do Juan Ponce Enrile and Eduardo Cojunagco burnish their gift Rolexes today, given the  disastrous results of their collaboration?

Military politicking left an AFP that is today the wimp of Asean armed forces. “Creeping militarization” of the bureaucracy  accelerated  duiring President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s watch.

Ms. Arroyo was weakened by the “Hello Garci” scandal. To buttress her shaky tenure, she increasingly curried favor of the generals,

“She owes her political survival to the military,”  an Agence France Presse quoted a diplomat after the aborted Peninsula Hotel  revolt in November 2007.   “She knows it. The military knows it. And there is little that she can do about.”

This presidential diminution underpins the brazen Camp Nakar medal ceremonies.  Are the generals signaling us, yet again:  Democracy grows from the barrel of  a gun?

This creed bastardizes Mao Zedong’s axiom.  Now, more than ever, the democratic institutions that People Power restored must hold. The alternative is more stark than just “paper hats and wooden swords”.

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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