AFP’s anti-communism is for real
I have read some arguments that frame the red-tagging spree the defense establishment is engaged in as part of the usual strategy of distraction. This is a mistake, because the anti-communist ideology of the Armed Forces is embedded in the military sector’s DNA. To understand the present situation, we should test the limits of hyperbole and say this is something every soldier believes.
It is ALSO true, of course, that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s unilateral abrogation of the UP-DND agreement of 1989, or the irresponsible mislabeling of individuals as communist rebels by the AFP, or Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr.’s return to his reckless habit of red-tagging some of the country’s most prominent universities—that these and other such incidents have served to deflect some attention away from the government’s anemic pandemic response.
But it would be a mistake, a blunder, to read the anti-communist hysteria the military is indulging in today as merely distracting in nature. The military thinks that 1) the greatest threat to national security remains the long-running communist insurgency, and 2) it is finally in a position to deliver the death blow to the insurgency, perhaps in a matter of mere months.
It is possible that this twin assessment is a conclusion reached without reference to politics. That is to say, it is possible—and indeed even likely, given the popular perception that the military continues to prefer to steer clear of politics—that this reading of threat and opportunity has nothing to do with any post-Duterte scenario at all.
Rather, going all-out on anti-communism is the military agenda. The generals, by and large, are following their own lead. They are able to do so because, in the last few years, President Duterte has more or less given them free rein.
This is the price the President is paying for his earlier embrace of the communist insurgency (when he was still mayor of Davao City) and his early alliance with the National Democratic Front (shown most clearly in his initial offer as
president-elect of four Cabinet positions to leaders associated with or respected by the NDF). There is also the release on bail of Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma in 2016, about two years after the couple (at that time the chair and secretary-general of the Communist Party of the Philippines) was arrested in the deadliest strike against the insurgency in decades. The Tiamzons were allowed to post bail to attend the peace talks that the administration had restarted, but after the talks fell through they have gone back into hiding. They remain, controversially, at large.
This is not to say that the DND and the AFP do not support President Duterte. It would be only prudent to assume that they do, in the same way they supported his predecessor and would support his successor. As these institutions proved when they shot down the revolutionary government trial balloon, pushed back against the President’s decision to end military exercises with the Americans, and turned down a larger role in the administration’s illegal drugs campaign—but used martial law in Mindanao to prosecute a war—they are clear about what they want from the administration. And because they get what they want, they support the President.
But this is ALSO not to say that politically ambitious generals do not exist, or that ambitious politicians are not courting the Armed Forces. The turf-enlarging, baselessly red-baiting Parlade is an example of a politically motivated general. It is good that Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana assumes the position of chief of staff this week; his appointment effectively prevents retirement-bound Parlade from becoming AFP chief. And there is no shortage of politicians and public officials whispering sweet nothings to current and up-and-coming stars in the military.
Many of them think, wrongly, that allowing the Left to enter the parliamentary arena was disastrous for the Philippines. For them, the congressional pork barrel is the symbol of all that has gone wrong with the democratic project. As I wrote before (“The pork barrel and the Left,” 10/28/13, or almost three years before Mr. Duterte assumed the presidency), “The restiveness in the ranks in the early years of Arroyo’s term … was fueled in part by the access Bayan Muna enjoyed to pork barrel funds. I cannot find it now, but an article in a military journal in 2002 or 2003 questioned the wisdom of inviting organizations associated with the NDF into the parliamentary arena, when their pork barrel could be used to fund the NDF’s armed wing, the New People’s Army. It was a sophisticated version of the kind of argument current at the time (it also surfaces every time a Leftist personality runs for the Senate).”
This, among many other provocations, has led the DND and the AFP into self-defeating postures. Parlade, for instance, replied to an analysis by Rappler’s executive editor Glenda Gloria with a lengthy confession, which included language like this: “It makes my hair stand on end that the Kamatayan Bloc in Congress [referring to the leftist Makabayan Bloc] are thoroughly convinced they are activists when the vast majority of Filipinos jeer and curse at them because they have been unmasked for the liars and hypocrites that they are.”
Nothing prevents Parlade or other officers and soldiers from thinking like this. But this sentiment, or resentment, cannot override longstanding democratic policy. Their anti-communist hysteria only radicalizes more and more people, and undermines the democratic project itself.
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]
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