AFP’s role under the rule of law | Inquirer Opinion
With Due Respect

AFP’s role under the rule of law

The coup d’état by the military in Myanmar, the withdrawal by our military from the University of the Philippines-Department of National Defense (UP-DND) accord, and the increasing dependence of our civilian government on retired military officers deserve a column on the role of our military under the rule of law.

The Constitution is the bedrock of the rule of law. Enshrined in Art. II, Sec. 3 is the military’s basic role: “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP] is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.”


Many provisions detail this basic principle of civilian supremacy over the military, thus: (1) the President is the “Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces,” (2) martial law “does not suspend… the Constitution,” (3) the “President shall nominate and, with the consent of the Commission on Appointments, appoint…” AFP officers “from the rank of colonel or naval captain,” (4) the Ombudsman may investigate and prosecute military officers for any act or omission that “appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient…” (5) all AFP members “shall take an oath or affirmation to uphold and defend (the) Constitution,” (6) professionalism in, and adequate remuneration and benefits of the AFP “shall be a prime concern of the State,” (7) AFP members shall not engage “directly or indirectly in any partisan activity, except to vote,” and (8) neither shall they “at any time, be appointed or designated in any capacity to a civilian position… including government-owned or controlled corporations or any of their subsidiaries.”

Unlike the restive military in Myanmar, Thailand, and other countries, our AFP has, thus far, been faithful to the Charter and the rule of law, and has steadfastly upheld civilian rule.


Verily, the AFP, as an institution, (1) defended Cory Aquino from at least eight putsch attempts by unruly military factions, (2) helped topple Joseph Estrada when it became obvious People Power 2 had popular support, and (3) stopped, per former defense secretary Avelino Cruz Jr. and former foreign secretary Albert Del Rosario, attempts to install revolutionary governments.

A clear and imminent risk of a military takeover I do not think there is. President Duterte enjoys the enormous trust of our people. Toppling him unconstitutionally, or even extra-constitutionally, is simply inconceivable. He (and even those before him) hires retired AFP officers who are capable and efficient, and who, according to him, know how to obey their superiors and to execute plans.

What I cannot understand is why our military is so livid at the academic freedom that our Constitution guarantees to institutions of higher learning. Granted arguendo that such freedom enables communists to spread the Marxist ideology of “From each according to his ability and to each according to his need” and to recruit students to their armed struggle; the remedy, I believe, is to teach a superior ideology, to minimize extreme poverty, and not to curtail liberty.

I should know because when I was young, I was extremely poor, peddling newspapers and shining shoes when I was in the grades and in high school, and selling textbooks to my law school classmates to be able to own one myself.

To the poor like me, Karl Marx was truly enticing, but Fr. Michael Nolan and Dr. Alejandro R. Roces, chaplain and liberal arts dean, respectively, of my school (FEU), taught me the superiority of democracy and the value of education to rise from poverty.

That is why I rejected communism and its armed struggle and, in fact, founded—along with the presidents of the student councils of UP, UST, San Beda, and St. Theresa’s—the National Union of Students to resist the red infiltration of our campuses.

At that time, in the 1950s, the rebels were almost at the gates of Manila, but the popular President Ramon Magsaysay galvanized the AFP and gave the people firm hopes for freedom and food, justice and jobs, liberty and prosperity. Sadly, he died in a plane crash.


I think that breaking the UP-DND accord would just alienate the educated poor from the Constitution and the State that the AFP vowed to protect. Unreasonable restrictions on freedom favor the enemies of the rule of law. And the quickest way to lose the red sands of youth is to squeeze the hand too tightly.


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