FIDEL RAMOS had some very interesting comments last week. Reflecting on the EDSA uprising and the various uprisings that were taking place in Libya, Bahrain, Algeria and Yemen, he said: “Why is their people power bloody? Why is it protracted? What did we have in 1986 that they don’t have?….They may have a president, a sultan, a king and a line of succession. But they belong to one group. What you really need is a split in the police and military ranks, when a faction decides to join the people in the streets.”
“What you really need is the military rebel.”
What’s wrong with that proposition? Two things.
One, it suggests that the emergence of the “military rebel” turns the tide of battle, or of war, by giving the camp opposing the ruler equal or even superior strength. Or at least by giving the people opposing that rule, the “people in the streets,” a protective umbrella. The picture it paints is that of the military rebels telling the ruler: “Whatever you do, do not touch these people or you will have to deal with us. They are under our protection. They are under our care.”
That wasn’t quite what happened at EDSA. Juan Ponce Enrile and his RAM protégés, who constituted the bulk of those that holed up in Camp Aguinaldo after their plot was discovered by Marcos, weren’t quite in a position to protect anyone, let alone themselves. Nor was their position vastly improved when Ramos joined them, forming the local version of the alliance of The Two Towers, in this case The Two Camps. Marcos and Fabian Ver continued to have the superior strength, the might of arms, the capacity to annihilate them.
The only thing that saved them from annihilation was the people coming out to protect them. Butz Aquino and Jaime Cardinal Sin issued the summons of course, but they merely sounded a call that was coming from the pit of the nation, from the hearts of the people. The massing at EDSA had spontaneity surrounding it. It had the people’s will written about it. Which drove Paul Laxalt in turn to sound yet another call that drove the final nail in Marcos’ coffin: “Cut, and cut cleanly.”
At the very least, what made this country’s People Power swift and bloodless was not a faction splitting from the military but America splitting from its past support for Marcos. At the very most, what made this country’s People Power swift and bloodless was not the military turning rebellious but the citizenry turning courageous.
Two, Ramos’ proposition applies far more not to People Power but to its opposite. What did we have in 1972 that other countries which remained democratic did not? We had martial law. To paraphrase Ramos: “What you really need to declare a swift and bloodless martial law is for the military as a whole to split from its traditional role of upholding civilian rule and turn rogue. What you really need is for the military as a whole to not tolerate dissent within or outside its ranks but to commit to crush the people in the streets.”
“What you need is the praetorian soldier.”
Ramos’ proposition glosses over the entire record of the military throughout the long years of martial law, or washes away its original sin with the baptismal waters of EDSA. It makes the military look like a benign force, or at least a professional organization consisting of career generals who at some point collectively or severally get to be assailed by the unprofessional conduct of their commander-in-chief they turn against him. That doesn’t just revise history, that screws it.
Lest we forget, Ramos was one of the so-called “Rolex 12,” the heads of the various branches of the military that conspired with Marcos to mount martial law. Enrile was one of its chief architects. There was nothing professional about the rule of the provincial commanders in the countryside, which makes the generals’ pabaon today look like a high school prank. There was nothing benign about the rule of the generals in the capital, which makes even Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s generals look positively enlightened.
At the very least, what’s ungodly about the suggestion that the military, or a faction of it, is the right arm of People Power is that it rewards easy claim-making—a favorite pastime in this country, everyone gets to be the author of the victory. It buries the fact that before the military became the right arm of People Power for one brief moment, it was the right arm of iron-fisted rule for an interminable time. In quite the same way that before Laxalt told Marcos to cut and cut cleanly, his government had been telling him for 14 years to cut his people down and cut them down mercilessly.
At the very most, what’s ungodly about it is that it deludes the military into thinking it has the right to rule after the exercise of People Power. Or at least it has the right to dictate the terms of the new rule. It is at least to Ramos’ eternal credit that he was not afflicted by that delusion. But Enrile was, the RAM was, attempting one coup after another against the one person People Power decreed to replace Marcos.
What you really need for People Power to be swift, though not necessarily bloodless—there is never any real guarantee of that—is an awakened citizenry. Or a citizenry sufficiently roused to risk everything, a citizenry who has had enough it will take no more, defying the tanks for the sake of the children. You are never sure of the outcome of that defiance. Looking back, Marcos might look like he never had any choice except to flee. Looking forward, it took anger and courage, the experience of hell and the glimpse of heaven, to do what the people did 25 years ago.
The people have always wielded the power. Unfortunately, then and now, others have always reaped the glory.