GARY Alejano, former Marine officer turned lawmaker as a Magdalo party-list representative, is a remarkably sanguine person under some very bad circumstances. When he launched his impeachment bid against President Duterte last March, he did so knowing full well the President enjoyed a public approval rating of 82 percent and a super majority in the 292-seat Congress. Two months later, a congressional panel poured scorn on the bid and junked it. Undeterred, Alejano, with his Magdalo comrade-in-arms, Sen. Antonio Trillanes, went to the International Criminal Court in The Hague and submitted supplemental documents to bolster the human rights complaint against Duterte filed earlier by lawyer Jude Sabio. Conservative at heart and a military man by nature, Alejano is quickly turning out to be a radical defender of liberal democracy.
The Magdalo HQ is located in a modest street behind the strip of up-scale bars and glamorous restaurants that these days populate the area of Timog in Quezon City. A giant poster with the faces of Trillanes and Alejano covers an entire wall at the entrance. Up the stairs are the offices and a meeting room where senior members of the Magdalo group convene. Ornamented kris blades and shelves of recognition plaques awarded to Trillanes line the hallway. It’s a busy place but, oddly, has a thrilling, fly-by-night feel. It’s almost as if at any moment the plaques and posters will disappear leaving the building deserted and anonymous.
On the particular afternoon I met Alejano, he was preoccupied with an Australian TV news crew who was interviewing him on the situation in Marawi. From 1996 to 2002, Alejano was stationed in Mindanao where he was an officer in a Marine reconnaissance battalion and responsible for field-training snipers. His modest background—the middle child of five siblings supported by a farmer father and a teacher mother—is rare for someone entering the elite preserves of the military and politics. But growing up in Negros Occidental, in a place “swarming” with communist guerrilla fighters, the NPA, he tells me, influenced him to join the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) at the age of 18. He eventually rose to the rank of captain. His and Trillanes’ batch, the ‘Marilag class’ of 1995 was reputedly brilliant, patriotic and charged with idealism. They embraced the academy’s values of “integrity, loyalty and courage”.
But putting their faith in these principles set them up for a rude awakening with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as their Commander in Chief. Oplan Greenbase was a top-secret document that was leaked to the military in 2003. Cooked up by Arroyo and her intimates, Greenbase was a plan to purposely destabilize Mindanao in order to avail of US funds to ostensibly fight terrorism. Government soldiers were instructed to plant bombs in mosques.
Outraged by the corruption they saw within the military and government, the Class of 1995 organized some 300 officers and enlisted personnel into a mutiny in 2003. The Oakwood Mutiny, named after the high-end apartments in Makati they occupied, was a failure. The group, conceding to negotiations and the pledged reforms, laid down their arms without firing a single shot and was promptly jailed for over seven years. Alejano opposed the peaceful solution and wanted to see the rebellion to its bitter end. “I was prepared for blood,” he told me, “I was prepared to die.” Alejano has forcefulness and passion in spades.
Their PMA background and the Oakwood Mutiny episode forged something of a critically deep bond between Alejano and Trillanes and the other core members, all of whom are former Marines, who constitute the beating heart of the Magdalo group. They are, as American historian Alfred W. McCoy memorably describes in his work on the Philippine military and the PMA, “closer than brothers.”
The Magdalo, Alejano explains, is a political party founded along the same mission-oriented, military structure and mindset that molded them. Their sacrifices, he says, are for “the love of God, country, people, family, the environment.” Their core values remain the same: a unity of command and direction, moral courage and honor, and discipline guided by a martial code of conduct that crucially includes one new element—participation in the political process.
Alejano believes they continue to fight a war constrained by democratic institutions and the parameters of the rule of law. It’s a war, he says, they wage against the injustice, impunity, falsity, and the criminality of the Duterte regime. He likens the proliferation of fake news to the Cold War-esque tactics of psychological warfare and calls this a “perception war.”
Alejano home-schools his children, possibly it seems, out of a sense of distrust toward the educational system. He strives to use all political means to bring about a new country. However, for all the idealistic trumpeting I have heard, the military ethos he and the Magdalo group cherish, essentially bind them to a very familiar sort of social conservatism. He is against same-sex marriage and divorce, and, despite the fact his wife works in the Magdalo offices, there is not a single woman holding office within the core group. On this score, the new Philippines he envisions, I tell him, seem a bit old and familiar to me.