The military as guardians against RevGov
The Armed Forces of the Philippines can refuse an order to support a revolutionary government under Article II, Sec. 3 of the Constitution: “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and integrity of national territory.”
The underscored sentence is a strange provision in the 1987 Constitution given its explicit goal of preventing dictatorial rule in our country. The doctrine of the armed forces as the “guardian de la nación” or “protector of the state” is a major doctrine of government in Latin America. Our Latino cousins gained their independence from Spain in the “Wars of Liberation” during the Napoleonic era. Their military won these wars. As a result, their military to this day claim that they are the “guardians of the nation.” They can intervene in affairs of state whenever they perceive that the “Principles of the (Wars of) Liberation” have been betrayed. One should note that the term of reference is not betrayal of “the provisions of the Constitution.”
In Latin America, constitutions are not institutions. Constitutions there are treated in the same manner as a municipal ordinance. Each Latino leader who gains power has as his Agenda No. 1 the revision of the constitution. A typical example: The Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro duo in Venezuela amended their country’s constitution several times to perpetuate their rule. In comparison, the United States has had only one constitution dating from 1776, same with Canada with its British North America Act of 1867.
In this respect, we are in the same boat as our Latino cousins. President Manuel L. Quezon started it when he had the 1935 Constitution amended so he could run for reelection. The original provision of our 1935 Constitution was a single-term presidency with no reelection. Quezon changed this to a four-year term with one reelection, or eight years in office. Our succeeding presidents have sought to amend the Constitution, or enact a new one by changing the form of government, with the goal of extending their tenures.
The downside of the absence of constitutional rule in Latin America is political instability. There are endless military interventions even against popularly elected governments, whenever the military deems that the “Principles of the Liberation” have been betrayed. The military’s interpretation of this principle is very broad.
In our case, the 1987 Constitution was adopted following the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution. The goal of this revolution was to terminate the dictatorial Marcos regime and restore the rule of law. On this basis, the military could invoke its role as “guardian of the nation” if there is a betrayal of these twin principles. In this regard, there is no question that with reference to the current movement to form a revolutionary government, the outcome of the military’s role would be beneficial to the country. The provision of our Constitution cited above acts as a deterrent to any movement to stage a coup. But on a long-term basis, the provision is dangerous to the political stability of our country. In Latin America, many reforms initiated by popularly elected governments were aborted by military interventions to preserve the status quo.
For this reason, it will be better for our country in the long run to amend, at the first opportunity, Article II, Section 3, sentence 2 of the Constitution, thus: “The duly elected officials of government, shall be the protector of the people and the State. x x x”
In the meantime, all the actors in our current political drama should simply play by the rules, so there will be no occasion to put into play the “guardian de la nación” doctrine.
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Hermenegildo C. Cruz is a career diplomat who served as Philippine ambassador to Bolivia and Chile. During his tour of duty in these two countries, he participated in conferences and academic symposia on the historical developments in countries that formed the former Spanish empire, including the Philippines.
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