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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Are we in a military regime?

Judging by what President Duterte said in a pre-recorded press briefing last week, it seems that the military holds sway in his staying power. In between his usual invectives-laced weekly rambling speech disguised as a press briefing, he asked: “Would the military allow me to stay this long if I am inutile?”

This rhetorical question coming no less from the Chief Executive is quite pithy but is loaded with a lot of subtexts, not the least of which is his acknowledgment of the pivotal role the military plays in his administration. Indeed, we don’t need a deep dive into his presidency to see this. Former military generals are at the helm of many government agencies, and they also occupy Cabinet-level positions. Former high-ranking military officials are also in vital middle-management positions in these offices. This is true as well in government-run and -managed corporations. Even the national task force mandated to address COVID-19 is run by a team of mostly former military generals. Its current head is now considered the COVID-19 “vaccine czar.”

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Another worrisome deduction from this question of the President is his seeming disregard for the democratic governance structure, particularly the role that popular vote played in catapulting him to the presidency. He also forgets that there are democratic mechanisms in place to remove a sitting president. In his flawed reasoning, the military makes or unmakes his rule. In a genuine democracy, elections are a foundational requisite toward selecting a country’s rulers via popular vote. While this popular exercise is not a guarantee to

select the best or ideal president or governor, there are democratic processes that can be resorted to when governors or rulers abuse their power and authority. These include impeachment procedures for presidents and senators, and removals or suspensions of those holding lower positions—with the representatives of the people conducting investigations into an elected official’s alleged abuse of power and authority, and of massive transgressions like plunder. At least on paper, this is what a functioning democracy should be.

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None of these processes use military might.

In a democratic republic such as ours, those in the military institution are duty-bound to uphold civilian supremacy at all times. However, democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution have once been thwarted to prop up Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law regime. Many of us in my generation have seen how brutal this rule had been, with thousands tortured and massacred largely through state military agents upon orders of Marcos’ henchmen and cronies.

The Marcos dictatorship became the primary basis for our legislators to craft a new “freedom” Constitution in 1987 — to ensure that there will be no recurrence of the horrors brought about by martial law. The Charter has included a provision limiting the term of office of the president to only one term, for a period of six years. This was inserted to prevent dictatorial tendencies and desire of a sitting president to perpetuate himself or herself in power. It also highlighted civilian supremacy over that of the military, and safeguarded citizens’ human rights.

But under the Duterte presidency, we are slowly witnessing the gradual encroachment of military agents into civilian bureaucracy. Presidential pronouncements, decisions and marching orders to the military even at the time of this public health crisis lend credence to speculations that we are slowly being brought back to that dark past we want to move away from.

In this administration, we have seen thousands of extrajudicial killings associated with its brutal “war on drugs,” which until now has not solved the pervasive illegal drug problem in the country.

Like Marcos, Mr. Duterte is a self-proclaimed strongman propped up by a strong institution — the military. Both presidents have also waltzed to the tune of the military to secure their presidencies. I hope these are the only similarities between the two presidents. No one wants to go back to the horrendous martial law regime.

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TAGS: former military officers in government, Kris-Crossing Mindanao, Rodrigo Duterte, Rufa Cagoco-Guiam
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