IN 2013, when the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) came up with its vision to become a “world-class Armed Forces, source of national pride,” then AFP Chief of Staff General Emmanuel T. Bautista insisted that the term “world-class” should focus on the AFP’s main asset: the Filipino soldier. While the organization recognized the need to modernize and build its capability for territorial defense, it was clear to them that to become world-class meant having professional, competent, non-partisan soldiers who adhere to good governance values and follow international humanitarian law.
Three years after the AFP embarked on its transformation roadmap, I am reminded of the lengthy discussion that the AFP officers had on their chosen vision given the spotlight on extra-judicial killings and the media picking up on the brutal war on drugs of the current administration. One feature which became particularly viral on social media is a New York Times photo series with a disquieting headline: “They’re Slaughtering Us Like Animals”.
Daniel Berehulak, the photojournalist who chronicled 57 murders in the streets of Manila in a span of 35 days wrote: “What I experienced in the Philippines felt like a new level of ruthlessness”, describing how institutions bound to protect its citizens have mercilessly gunned down individuals suspected of being part of the drug trade.
More and more, it is unmistakable that the AFP was right in choosing its vision, as it is the issue of human rights and the practice of governance values not only by the organization but also of each uniformed personnel that is putting our country in international media headlines. Even though there are still a number of things that the AFP needs to work on to reach its vision of becoming “world-class,” it is the basic recognition of professionalizing the Armed Forces that has yielded results. Through the pursuit of both the AFP transformation roadmap, which seeks to put in place mechanisms for transparency, accountability, and sustainability, and the Internal Peace and Security Plan: Bayanihan (IPSP Bayanihan) that focuses on collaboration with local communities in winning the peace (as opposed to defeating the enemy), the organization is well on its way to attaining its vision.
For the AFP to successfully stay on course with its transformation journey, it only has to go back to its mandate: “to protect the people and secure the sovereignty and integrity of the national territory”. Highlighting its mission to protect the people, the AFP has to continue instilling the spirit of bayanihan in each of its personnel. What this means is acknowledging that the way towards genuine development is through a whole-of-nation approach that looks beyond the number of enemies killed or arrested, and focuses on fostering the sense of community and belonging in the locality.
Two years ago, I met some enlisted personnel of the Philippine Army who had just been re-assigned to Fort Bonifacio after being in the field for a long time, and I took the opportunity to ask him if the transformation roadmap and the IPSP Bayanihan had any impact in the conduct of their internal security operations. His answer struck me:
“Nung dati, baril lang kami nang baril. Pero noong naituro sa amin ang IPSP: Bayanihan nag-iba ang pagtingin ko sa kanila. Ngayon, kahit nasa panganib na ang buhay mo, hindi ka muna babaril. Naiisip ko kase na pareho lang naman kaming Pilipino. Hindi ko siya kailangan patayin. Kailangan ko lang malaman kung paano siya makukumbinse na bumalik loob sa communidad.”
(Before, we used to just shoot and shoot. When we were taught the IPSP: Bayanihan, my perspective of the insurgents changed. Now, even if my life is in danger, I don’t shoot first. I am reminded that we are both Filipinos.
I don’t need to kill. I just need to understand how he or she could be convinced to return to the community.)
If the AFP succeeds in bringing down this mindset of making each soldier understand the importance and dignity of every individual, then we can see how professionalizing the Armed Forces is not just a means to become a better organization. In this case, it means protecting human life.
The AFP has made strides in its pursuit to become a world-class Armed Forces, and a source of national pride.
Celebrating the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 81st Anniversary last December 21, the newly installed AFP Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Eduardo Año, in his speech said: “We dedicate our efforts today to the Filipino people we have sworn to serve and protect, and this we have done each year with dedication and pride, as it is a fact that only with their unyielding support that we as an institution came to where we are now”.
With the continued efforts of the AFP in bettering the institution, I can only hope that the next time the world recognizes us, it is because of our uniformed men and women living up to their promise of protecting the people and the state.
Guia Luistro is a political science graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University and is currently a program officer assigned to help implement the Institute for Solidarity in Asia’s (ISA) governance reform programs in national government agencies in the Philippines. To learn more about her work with the Institute, visit isacenter.org.