The Myanmar coup and the Philippines
The latest coup of the Tatmadaw (military) in Myanmar is the clumsiest yet, with no acceptable justification. The putschists didn’t even attempt to provide a believable excuse, except a comical small contingent of placard-bearing civilians that greeted the coup announcement. That show of support has since been drowned by a massive, widespread, and persistent demonstration of people power that shows no signs of abating.
The putschists’ charge of election irregularities against the Aung San Suu Kyi-led government in the Myanmar November 2020 elections is as incredible as the claims by Donald Trump that he won the US presidential election. Unless sections of the Burmese military stage a countercoup, remove Tatmadaw commander in chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to save face, and return to democracy, the situation can only get uglier. The attempt to keep the show of popular outrage will only ratchet into violence and a repeat of the bloody 8888 (1988) uprising. In that formula, the Tatmadaw eased out their leader, Gen. Ne Win, but retained control. This time, however, the retention of political power by the Tatmadaw through constitutional concessions appears unacceptable to the Burmese people. Myanmar has been transformed over the past decade by a delirious foretaste of full freedom.
Just how easily the Tatmadaw can disregard and disrespect the hard-won political compromise the 2008 Myanmar Constitution represented is instructive. It drives home to the Philippines just how we have undervalued the tensile strength of our 1987 Constitution against military adventurism. After the eight coup attempts in the period 1986-1989, excepting military tantrums in the 1990s, we have had a continuous absence of coups over the past 32 years. That, to me, is the main legacy of the 1987 Constitution.
The 1990 Davide Commission Report commissioned by President Corazon Aquino on the series of coup attempts that bedeviled her administration has enabled the military, the government, and the country to understand coups, undertake critical reforms, and keep soldiers in the barracks. Our inoculation against coups, however, is slowly being eroded. Conducive coup conditions are now carelessly spawned. As the Davide Report warned:
Opportunities for a mutinous military to intervene include civilian dependence on the military, an overt domestic crisis like a civil war, a latent or chronic crisis like a continuing insurgency or prolonged economic distress, and a vacuum in national leadership.
Military interference is likely to occur when the armed forces are ordered to use coercion against domestic opponents of the government, or to enforce unpopular governmental decisions. The military’s neutrality and subordination to the civilian government are strained because the military becomes not the defender of the state but an instrument of its political leadership.
Military intervention also arises when military officers alter their mission—when they think of the military as the ultimate custodian of national interests. They then consider it their duty to arbitrate the political disputes or veto decisions of civilian authorities.
The likelihood of military intervention rises when there is a perceived deterioration of economic conditions, especially if accompanied by a belief that the government cannot resolve, or is responsible for, such deterioration.
The sense of frustration among soldiers may arise when the self-esteem of the military has been gravely affected, or when it suffers humiliation on certain issues.
There is no need to elaborate on how these predisposing conditions may exist in the Philippines today. Note how the Philippine military is seemingly trying to make up for its embarrassing weakness in the West Philippine Sea by overacting in its internal security role, magnifying the NPA threat. And beware—the military might develop and display contempt for civilian authority as a result of “vicarious shame” over corruption in government.
On the whole, the Philippine military has behaved with professionalism under the 1987 Constitution. Which is why I worry when congresspersons tinker with the 1987 Constitution, and the President occasionally openly invites the military to take over.
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