Since adopting its Lipa Declaration on August 27, 2014, a year after the largest protest under President Benigno Aquino 3rd, the National Transformation Council made up of religious and civil society leaders, former top officials, and other citizens groups, has held major assemblies in Cebu and other cities calling on Aquino to resign.
NTC criticisms include the bribing of Congress using pork barrel and Disbursement Acceleration Program funds, the failure to prosecute allies for pork and DAP anomalies, and the undermining of elections with the wholesale disregard of automated voting safeguards. With the January 25 massacre of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, the council now cites presidential incompetence.
The Palace has maintained that he will complete his term, while his allies in Congress will not remove him for fear of letting the opposition leader, Vice-President Jejomar Binay, take over. If resignation and impeachment are out, a popular uprising and a coup d’etat are other measures for leadership change.
An uprising doesn’t seem likely at this time. The economy’s sustained growth since 2007, when the Philippines was already one of Southeast Asia’s strong performers, won’t pack rallies with crowds of jobless people. And many Filipinos are content to wait a year and four months for a new leader to take over.
Grievances of the gun wielders
Will the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police remove Aquino? Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago spoke last week about a rumored coup plot financed by a wealthy businessman. The Palace, the AFP and the PNP promptly gave assurances that the military and the police would not support a power grab.
Moves against the government are kept secret, of course, especially those that actually happen and succeed. Still, one can analyze whether the troops have grievances that could lead some or most to join a coup or uprising.
Before the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny, then President Gloria Arroyo met with disgruntled officers on their misgivings. After the incident, she formed the Feliciano Commission to address issues causing disaffection in the AFP and the PNP.
In 2011, 19 Scout Rangers died in a clash with Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in Al-Barka, Basilan, while trying to capture Dan Laksaw “Ustaz” Asnawi, head of the MILF’s 114th Base Command. He was detained for the 2007 killing of 14 Marines, but escaped a Basilan jail in 2009.
A top national security official assessed military sentiments after army officers were sanctioned for the debacle, but Asnawi and other insurgents were never caught despite Aquino’s slogan of “all-out justice.” There was widespread disaffection among the ranks.
In Mamasapano, few, if any, have hopes of finding out, let alone arresting rebels from the MILF and its supposed splinter group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), who murdered in cold blood defenseless SAF troopers overrun in a cornfield.
Yet great as that grievance may be, the failure to give justice to the Fallen 44 may not be the biggest reason for the security establishment to unseat Aquino. Rather, it is the mammoth erosion of trust and confidence in the Commander-in-Chief caused by his utter mishandling of the Mamasapano operation and its aftermath.
Doubting the Commander-in-Chief
Rather than asking if soldiers and police would back a coup or uprising, the more useful question may be whether they would still follow Aquino’s orders with a high level of trust and confidence.
If faith in him is widely absent, that is a very serous problem which could weaken battlefield resolve and obedience to orders. More battles and lives could be lost.
When troops go on a mission or into battle, they must have faith that the operation is well-planned, ably led, and adequately resourced with ample men and materiel, including ready support from other government forces.
Plus: the mission must have rightful, duly constituted authority behind it. Hence, the paramount imperative to follow the chain of command.
And while casualties and capture are unavoidable risks, our fighting men rightly expect that immense effort would be undertaken to rescue beleaguered troops.
Lastly, our fighting men and women expect superiors to take responsibility for operations they approve, and decisions of officers they entrust with leadership and operational tasks. While faults and failings of individual officers and men must be acknowledged, the overall commander should stand by them.
These foundations of trust and confidence are now in tatters for what the Commander-in-Chief and top security officials did before, during and after Mamasapano.
First, President Aquino, the highest official in the military and police chain of command, allowed a mission in which top officials in that very chain were not involved or informed.
Even at the final briefing on January 9, he did not ask for the Defense and Interior secretaries, the AFP and PNP heads to be present. And when the mission did go ahead and he was told of its progress from the morning of January 25, Aquino was not bothered that those foregoing four officials were not in the loop.
When the SAF units came under heavy attack, as Aquino was apprised through the day, he and the AFP brass did not respond with full force to save the police commandos. Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang Jr. said the military’s orders were “to extricate the beleaguered forces, but not to engage the MILF.” A text message between army generals cited “guidance of the President” to rescue the SAF “without endangering our forces.”
Now that things have gone horribly wrong, the Commander-in-Chief has let relieved SAF head Getulio Napeñas take the fall, while sparing himself, his shooting buddy resigned PNP Chief Alan Purisima, and the MILF from blame.
After all that, will soldiers and police still respect Aquino and obey him with full faith?