When brave soldiers cry
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo
Inq7.net 2006-03-06
TURNING points in history are almost always distinguished by human markers of courage and sacrifice. These poignant moments that have touched and inspired people to action are etched in the collective minds of generations to come. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi’s march to the sea, Vietnamese Buddhist monks setting themselves ablaze in protest of the Ngo Ding Diem regime—are examples of defining moments that changed the course of history.
The crucifixion at Golgotha launched Christianity. Gandhi’s march to the sea to protest the British salt monopoly lent a more dramatic yet non-violent expression for India’s clamor for independence from Great Britain. The riveting images of Buddhist monks burning themselves dealt a serious blow to the Ngo Ding Diem regime, eventually resulting in the CIA-backed coup that ended the life of Diem and his regime.

The disquieting events that came in the wake of that failed ‘non-coup’ of February 24 provide images that threaten to further seed the clouds that will stir the political storms that hound the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime. I call it a ‘non-coup’ because even Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Generoso Senga categorically stated that there was no coup plot. Instead, there was only a plan by officers and soldiers to join an EDSA I Commemoration rally and there to manifest their withdrawal of support from Madame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

There is the image of the besieged Arroyo regime sending home Malacanang employees and barricading all access to the Palace with container vans on February 24. Then there is the sight of the regime’s shock troops in big numbers and in full riot gear dispersing the EDSA I rallyists and protest marchers.

While both acts were clearly intended to protect and preserve the Arroyo regime, the net effect may be to the contrary. These so-called precautions were seen as overreactions and served only to create and/or reinforce a mental picture of an insecure ruler.

I’ve always said in my column that Madame Arroyo appears to have a very poor sense of history. In this instance, she forgot that EDSA I was all about the battle of mental positions between the dictator at the Palace and the rebels in Camp Crame. EDSA I was a psychological battle, not a physical conflict. Barricading herself in Malacanang and dispersing peaceful rallyists merely solidified images of:

1. An embattled regime
2. An insecure and unpopular ruler
3. A police state

The Arroyo government’s claims that it enjoys the support of the “silent majority” had been invalidated by these images on television. Madame Arroyo’s persistent claim to have been a democratically-elected president in 2004 was smashed by these images that painted a regime that could only rule through police enforcers.

Marcos may have lost the psychological battle of EDSA I but this is no reason for Madame Arroyo to conclude that some of the tactics that Marcos employed had been ineffective. Marcos did two things that were right during the EDSA I psychological fight:

1. Marcos brought in people to Malacanang to try to project popular support. Madame Arroyo emptied the Malacanang grounds.
2. Marcos considered dispersing the EDSA crowd but reconsidered that option. Madame Arroyo dispersed the EDSA rallyists and protest marchers.

There are those who aver that had Marcos decided to disperse the EDSA crowd, there would have been no EDSA People Power Revolt. Marcos may have been an SOB as one Washington official had described him, but he was no fool and he knew his history lessons well. An attack on the EDSA crowd would have spelt worse repercussions on Marcos and his family.

Marcos lost not because he failed to empty the Malacanang grounds of people or that he had failed to disperse the EDSA crowd. Marcos lost because he had long lost all moral grounds to continue to rule. He knew that not even state terrorism would serve him well at that point. The final blow came when Marcos’ own American friends, through US Senator Paul Laxalt, asked him to “cut and cut clean.”

Interestingly, the US has called upon Madame Arroyo to lift Presidential Proclamation (PP) 1017 immediately. Even more interesting is that Vice President Noli de Castro—who has been very supportive of Madame Arroyo—echoed the US line to remove PP 1017 a day after the US made its stand. The US has always expressed preference for following the constitutional process in resolving national crisis. Can this be the process that is now at work?

The worst and most disturbing of these recent images involved the standoff at the Philippine Marines Headquarters at Fort Bonifacio last February 26 that culminated in the relief of Marine Col. Ariel Querubin. The spontaneity and sincerity of his tearful parting remarks to his troops last Wednesday at Fort Ranao provided stark contrast to all the lies, deceit and hypocrisy of the political environment he is duty-bound to defend.

It is a fact of life that extra-constitutional upheavals here are complemented by military support which had been the case in the first two EDSA People Power events. It has now similarly emerged in the current political scenario, the clamor for Madame Arroyo’s ouster. Up to February 24, the Arroyo regime has managed to create the impression that it still enjoys the support of the majority of the AFP, suggesting that only a few disgruntled junior officers were involved in agitating for disruption in the chain of command.

The events of February 24 debunked all that. While most people perceive PP 1017 as an overreaction, it is actually a confirmation that a resolute military mutiny is the sum of Gloria M. Arroyo’s greatest fears. Col. Ariel Querubin’s emotional and tearful farewell at Camp Ranao gave a face to that scenario.

A bemedaled war hero in the fighting in Mindanao and a well respected and recognized leader of the country’s elite fighting unit—Col. Querubin took a stand, knowing fully well that he was sacrificing a forthcoming promotion to the rank of general. As he poured out his heart and tears to his beloved comrades, TV cameras panned on the unmistakable melancholy and emotion on the faces of once hardy, fighting men in uniform. The contrasting image of hard and sturdy men in a highly charged emotional moment must have stirred TV audiences, especially soldiers and officers.

It is believed that many in the AFP were in solidarity with Brig. Gen. Danny Lim and Col. Querubin, the two alleged leaders of the failed ‘non-coup’ of February 24. Retired officers have been issuing warnings that over 70% of the AFP are also bothered by the legitimacy issue hounding Madame Arroyo, something that two respected senators, Ramong “Jun” Magsaysay and Rodolfo “Pong” Biazon, have also been saying.

For Brig. Gen. Danny Lim to have been very open with AFP chief Gen. Senga and invite Gen. Senga to join their planned rally and withdrawal of support—indicates supreme confidence on Lim’s part that they enjoy popular support in the military. Imagine how those who are in solidarity with Brig. Gen. Lim and Col. Querubin must have felt when they saw that emotional scene in Fort Ranao.

Col. Querubin’s relief comes at the heels of the earlier relief of Marine Commandant Maj. General Renato Miranda who is a father figure to his men. Miranda’s relief is largely seen as another act of insecurity and injustice of the regime. The irony of it all is that per news reports it was Gen. Miranda who convinced Col. Querubin to forego the plan to join the EDSA rally.

The drama intensifies when the chosen successor of Gen. Miranda, Brig. Gen. Nelson Allaga, happens to be one of the military officers who were implicated in the Garci tapes controversy that spawned this national crisis. So here we have the images of two officers—Gen. Miranda and Col. Querubin—who are looked up to by their men and have lost their posts now contrasting with the image of an alleged member of the 2004 cheating operation who is benefiting from it all.

Go figure how all that will impact on the hearts and minds of all the officers and soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.

You may email William M. Esposo at: w_esposo@yahoo.com

  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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