Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) blasted the deployment of military regulars in Metro Manila as a usurpation of civilian authority when I met with him in his Makati office last March 22.
I sought the meeting with FVR, compleat soldier, EDSA icon and former president — precisely to get his views on the issue of troop deployment and the creeping militarization.
FVR said: "That (Metro troop deployment) is totally uncalled for and unjustified. Not only that, the troop deployment is a clear case of usurpation of civilian authority — the police being the civilian authority who should be doing that task. There is even no justification to deploy troops in Sulu towns so what more in Metro Manila."
President Eddie has been consistent in his defense of the gains of EDSA, a cause that all freedom-loving Filipinos should support.
When Madame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) imposed PP1017 on February 25, 2006, FVR was among the first to challenge it, calling for its quick withdrawal. Considering FVR’s influence on US policy makers, it was not surprising that the US followed his lead and advised GMA to withdraw PP1017. Of course, GMA promptly complied.
Two weeks ago, FVR assailed the government’s anti-insurgency policy including the proposition of AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Chief of Staff, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, to again declare the Communist Party of the Philippines as an illegal organization. This was discussed in my March 22 column, "Why troops were deployed in Metro Manila."
Asked about the imprint of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales on the government’s misdirected and counterproductive anti-insurgency policy, FVR remarked: "That guy (Gonzales) should have been fired a long time ago. At the very least, he should have been fired when he ate that banana during the Senate hearing on the Venable contract."
FVR traces all the mess to Madame Arroyo’s unrealistic and impracticable order to the military, giving them P2 billion and three years to wipe out the insurgency. FVR thinks that the main cause of the problem is really bad orders coming from the Commander in Chief on top of the chain of command and less of the military top brass acting on their own.
"All these wrong moves of the military may be traced to bad orders coming from the top. And if we will believe many of the reports — the bad orders come from two sources, PGMA and FGMA," FVR stated.
FVR bemoaned dragging the men in uniform into political concerns and even pushing them to do things that make them look like Fascists. He specifically cited the senseless assault on the Iloilo capitol where Governor Niel Tupas was holed out and the recent attempt to fly Rep. Satur Ocampo to Leyte. "These were very ugly incidents caught on television," FVR said.
FVR decried the lack of initiative of the current military top brass not to speak up and advise Madame Arroyo when her orders are obviously wrong and counterproductive. He mentioned that even during the time of Dictator Ferdinand Marcos, he would always offer his counsel whenever he felt that a wrong military policy was being hatched. In several instances, FVR said that Marcos listened and followed his advice.
Somehow, what FVR says makes sense when we consider that compared to Madame Arroyo, Marcos — a soldier during World War II — is certainly more military-savvy. The supreme irony is that the Dictator who knew more about military matters was the one willing to listen while the wannabe dictator without a military background would not.
Inevitably, the discussion got to the scenario that concerns a lot of people these days — what if the Arroyo regime, in its desperation to hold on to power no matter what the cost, decides to impose martial law by whatever name? By now, there should be no doubt that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will stop at nothing in order to preserve power.
On that possibility, FVR commented: "I hope Gloria learns from her experience with PP1017, that it is not possible. Her biggest mistake will be to try to do it. On something like this, the overwhelming majority of the police and the military will not go along with her."
I can only agree with FVR on that point. I believe that GMA had all this time managed to get away with issuing bad orders because the police and military had been cutting her some slack by not challenging the legality or propriety of her orders.
But when the line is crossed — if those orders clearly benefit only an entrenched few and in fact usurp the democratic order — I have no doubt that the very men in uniform she gives those orders to will be the very men in uniform who will place her under arrest.
GMA’s greatest problem is herself, in not knowing how to curb these acts of impunity that characterize her regime. She has established a pattern of behavior that keeps testing the limits. God help us all if one day GMA miscalculates her actions and triggers a situation which she might not be able to contain. We could wake up one morning to find our nation in the vortex of a civil war.
The raging issues of repression, poverty and hunger, the disunity in the country, the cynicism of the people, a divided military and police — all these have become ready fuel for the bonfires of bloody political confrontation. All it needs is only one reckless tyrant to spark the conflagration.