Has Aquino ended the era of coups?
CANBERRA—President Aquino issued on Friday his last mission order to the Armed Forces of the Philippines: to ensure peaceful and orderly elections in May 2016. The instruction was made days before the results of a new survey conducted early this month showed changes in voter preference for the presidential candidates, with Vice President Jejomar Binay of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance emerging No. 1, followed in order by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Sen. Grace Poe, and Liberal Party standard-bearer Mar Roxas. The race appears to have narrowed to a four-cornered contest, and promises to bring further changes in rankings in the next few weeks.
While Roxas’ ratings have improved, he is still trailing Duterte, Poe and Binay, who has dislodged Duterte from the front-runner position. It is not clear if the acrimonious exchange between Roxas and Duterte that started with Roxas’ declaration that Duterte’s claim of Davao being the safest city in the country is a “myth,” to which Duterte’s reaction was to question Roxas’ academic credentials, had any bearing on the survey outcome. (The survey was conducted on Dec. 4-11.—Ed.) What is clear is that the controversy degenerated to challenges to physical combat as well as to a gun duel, which have little to do with platforms of governance, economic and social reforms, and the direction of the country in the next six years.
The celebration of the 80th anniversary of the founding of the AFP as an agent of peaceful change was held for the first time in Clark Field, outside Manila, to emphasize the military assets of the country as it faces aggressive actions by China to pursue its expansion and claims of sovereignty over territories in the South China Sea that are also claimed by the Philippines and its neighbors. The reason for choosing Clark as the venue of the AFP anniversary celebration is that Metro Manila does not have the space to demonstrate that the military’s hardware is not just a paper tiger.
The President, as commander in chief, led the celebration without saber-rattling that might be viewed as offensive to China. “Next year,” he said, addressing the AFP, “the responsibility to ensure that the coming elections will be peaceful and successful rests on our shoulders. This is my last mission for you. And as commander in chief, I am confident that you will follow only one signal: to do what is right, reasonable and just for the good of the people.”
“Let me just point out, now that we are entering the last six months of our administration, our bosses are expecting much from us,” the President said. “Their order is clear: Continue to serve without siding with anyone but the people; continue to repay with service the care they are according you.”
He also said the soldiers had shown their readiness to sacrifice for the people, responding to crises even in dangerous situations such as the Zamboanga siege and the recent typhoons that hit the country. But he also reminded them that he had kept his promise to help the military effect changes in the organization before the end of his term.
He didn’t miss a chance to hit the previous administration for neglecting the AFP: “From a force that was neglected after a decade of lies, cheating and stealing in government, we have strengthened your ranks to become a modern, prepared military whose only interest is to uphold the interest and welfare of our bosses.”
The President reminded the military that it has come full circle. He noted the big-ticket items in the AFP’s modernization program, as well as the completion of 65 projects worth a total of P56.79 billion, as against the 45 projects worth P31.75 billion under three past administrations. This was on top of the implementation of the Medium Term Capability Development program envisioned to last until 2017, which would reach P83.9 billion.
He claimed that the military assets acquired during his term included those that have improved the soldiers’ lifting capability in times of disaster: three additional C-130s, three C-295 medium lift transports, two heavy landing vessels from Australia, and various troop carrier trucks. For heavier operations, he reported the acquisition of the BRP Ramon Alcaraz and BRP Gregorio del Pilar, along with new combat utility and attack helicopters, as well as multipurpose attack craft and armored personnel carriers for troops. After a decade, he said, the military has acquired 12 FA-50 fighters, two of which have arrived.
What’s the point to all these acquisitions? The President allowed us a glimpse into the rationale behind this military buildup. “My question now is: In all these, who can say that the military was neglected under the Straight Path?”
After all of these, we can see that the military modernization program has kept the soldiers sufficiently busy, to keep them from engaging in coup plots, the favorite pastime of the disgruntled colonels of the RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement). Indeed, it may be said that the Aquino administration has coopted the military in such a way that we may now conclude that it has ended the era of coup attempts, which led to the instability of the Cory Aquino presidency after the Edsa People Power Revolution. One can only wish that the exiting Aquino administration was as effective in managing the economy and reducing poverty.
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