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The Army and the people

ANTECEDENT. The Philippine Army will mark its 119th year on March 22 at its headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, fittingly named after the Katipunan supremo who led the armed uprising against Spain in the flame of 1896. After 350 years of colonial servitude and friar despotism, separation was the only answer to the people’s aspiration for freedom.

Organized as a revolutionary army at the Tejeros Convention in Kawit, Cavite, in 1987, it elected Artemio Ricarte captain-general to command the sons of the people. A nation was born of the Revolution and an expression of the nation being born.

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Emilio Aguinaldo of Magdalo was awarded the highest prize as its president. A small-town man of a prudence greater than his intellect, he found his doom in playing a role far greater than himself. He ordered Col. Agapito Bonzon to arrest Andres Bonifacio as a rival and a threat, charged him with sedition and treason at a military court presided over by Mariano Noriel, and after a mock trial of five days, had him executed on May 10, 1897.

After America annexed Filipinas in the Treaty of Paris on Dec. 10, 1898, Aguinaldo had the chance to take Manila before Yankee reinforcement arrived, as insisted by Antonio Luna—his best professional soldier—but he hesitated. Instead, he fell to George Dewey’s duplicity and was deprived of the nation’s seat of authority. He had Luna assassinated in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, on June 5, 1899, whose talent he simply could not muster to ensure the Revolution’s success.

From 1901 to 1907, the revolutionary army waged guerrilla warfare against the new conquerors and offered its patriots to be killed: Luciano San Miguel, Faustino Guillermo, Makario Sakay and Lucio de Vega of Bulacan; Simeon Ola and Lazaro Toledo of Bicol; Roman Manolan of Pangasinan and Zambales; Manuel Tomines of Isabela; Ruperto Rios of Tayabas; Dionisio Magbuelas of Negros; and Faustino Ablen of Leyte. They remained faithful to the goal of independence. They were not bandits, tulisanes, religious nuts and disgruntled politicos; they represented a resurgence of the Revolution on a national scope. The ilustrados had all gone over to the American side, but Ricarte continued to make it truly one of the masses and rightfully became its apotheosis. Only when he died, buried unknown somewhere in the northern wilds, did the Revolution truly end.

Yankee imperialism produced a society that forgot a brutal military campaign of suppression and accepted the myth of altruism as gospel truth.

Commonwealth. After 35 years of US tutelage, the Army was revived on Jan. 11, 1936, through a National Defense Act. President Manuel Quezon appointed Jose delos Reyes as chief of staff. Under the provisions of the Tydings-McDuffie Act, the Army could be called into the service of America when necessary.

For coordinated defense efforts, US President Franklin Roosevelt formed the Usaffe (US Armed Forces in the Far East) as umbrella military command on July 26, 1941, and called Douglas MacArthur to active duty as its commanding general. The Pacific War broke out on Dec. 8, after Japanese imperial forces bombed Pearl Harbor.

Unprepared for war with MacArthur’s inept “War Plan Orange-3,” the Army consolidated into vast guerrilla units that gave the people the courage and inspiration to live through the miseries and horrors of war. America abandoned Filipinas in March 1942, to focus its war machine to defeat Nazi Germany in Europe. A livid Quezon raged: “For 30 years I have worked and hoped for my people. Now they burn and die for a flag that could not protect them. I cannot stand this constant reference to England, to Europe. Que demonio—how typically American to writhe in anguish at the fate of a distant cousin while a daughter is being raped in the backroom!”

Japan’s occupation of Filipinas in 1942-1945 shattered the people’s safe colonial world, and the majority reacted as American wards—placing their hopes and fate in MacArthur. Defeats were transformed into illusions, abandonment was rationalized, and the Death March after Bataan fell on April 9, 1942, was counted as an investment for future reward.

Martial law. The proclamation of martial law in September 1972 by strongman Ferdinand Marcos was a seminal event for the armed forces. The Army, led by Rafael Zagala, backed martial law because it shared the belief that civilian leadership enshrined by the 1935 Constitution had failed, and that it must save society from elitist greed, oligarchic corruption, political demagoguery and externally-fed subversion. Marcos was the duly-constituted authority.

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The martial necessity concerned itself not only with the external symptoms of rebellion, but its roots as well—mass poverty, elitism of wealth and social injustices. The status quo, like a raging  river, had separated us from the rich and happy land our patriots envisioned. With courage, wisdom and determination, the vision of martial rule was to build a bridge to arrive at that rich and happy land. The “Martial Law Citation Badge” is worn proudly today by the Army as a testimony of its principled loyalty to its vision.

Edsa I. Shorn of verbiage, Edsa I was simply a military revolt sparked by the defection of two men which gave encouragement to civilians supported by a religious leader with their invaluable presence on the highway. Together with US power with strong adherents within the military, these elements extended their profound acquiescence to the political regime established thereto—the Army shifted its allegiance to the people.

The growing efficiency of communication facilities, the intensification of legitimate violence in military hands, and the increasing sophistication of military organization propel it as the most decisive power in any state.

While “People Power” restored democratically-inspired institutions, it likewise returned with a vengeance the historical greed of the elite and oligarchic privilege. People power benefited only a select few and corruption steadily became the hallmark during the watch of Corazon Aquino. The “February ’86 Revolution Ribbon” awarded to the Army is worn with apathy and dismay.

Moro substate. In a full-page ad in the Inquirer on Sept. 14, 2015, the Association of General and Flag Officers warned the nation that the House version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law was fraught with constitutional infirmities and creates a substate—acceptable only if the political leadership can cross over their line of bayonets. The Republic was so close to dismemberment and the BBL would be one of the victims of Mamasapano.

As the Army celebrates its foundation day, the nation salutes its courage and the prestige of its name, its perseverance in the worst of times, its patience with the conditions and means to fight the wars of the Republic, and its utmost dedication to the people it passionately serves. Long live the Army!

Reynaldo V. Silvestre, a retired Army colonel, bemedalled officer and multiawarded writer, was former chief, Office of Strategic and Special Studies, Armed Forces of the Philippines. He belongs to Class 1968 of the University of the Philippines Vanguard in Diliman, and taught political science at UP Manila when called to active duty as first lieutenant in 1975.

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