(REBEL WITHOUT A CLUE) Double-barreled

Published by rudy Date posted on December 2, 2008

by Patricia Evangelista
from Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — There is a reason why traditional democratic discourse rejects active military involvement in politics, and stresses civilian supremacy. The reason is this: that violence, or the threat of violence, which the military utilizes in the enforcement of its goals, must be without bias in its service to the public.

Without that neutrality, that presumption that public will and public institutions must be respected, the general can easily strafe a group he considers terrorist, the activist and the journalist can find themselves in a torture camp, and the man in fatigues carrying an M16 can wander down an urban zone and intimidate residents.

It is not democracy when the civilian will is not paramount—the barrel of a gun, after all, is infinitely more effective as a lobbying tool than a party pamphlet. It is that reasoning that makes the image of the tank parked beside a Christmas tree in the Manila Peninsula Hotel so jarring. It is that same reasoning that makes the Manila Peninsula standoff all the more dangerous.

Oakwood, some will argue, can be forgiven—it was the work of desperate men who had no means of making their will heard. Oakwood gave them a voice, one loud enough to push Antonio Trillanes IV into running in the elections. His running is essentially a bow to civilian supremacy, an acknowledgment that change does not come from military will, but from that most civilian of all civilian institutions—the elections. In February 2007, his statement in Genuine Opposition rallies emphasized the need for action. Many have died, he said, and many more will die in military conflicts because of rank corruption in government.

He had many issues: anti-corruption, poverty alleviation, peace and order, and education. Yet foremost of all, he said he believed in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s guilt, and promised the public that his vote in the impeachment court would be against the President. He got his mandate, 11 million votes on a tiny campaign budget, a manifestation of public disenchantment, a protest to current realities.

Perhaps it went to his head. Because it is rank arrogance on the part of Trillanes to believe that his election as a senator presupposes public support to an armed attack on the administration. Because that is what it was—it wasn’t a protest rally or a “political act” as his lawyer claims. A political act does not involve men with guns in combat gear. If they wanted to protest as civilians, they should have come as civilians. It didn’t matter that they held no one individual hostage. Their presence in a high-profile public establishment as armed men was threat enough. That was why military men were banned from holding “public meetings” in impoverished urban areas during the elections—it is because simply wearing a military uniform carries with it the entire symbolic threat of an institution that enforces through violence and fear.

Whether or not former Vice President Teofisto Guingona and Bishop Julio Labayen supported the carrying of arms is still unknown. But bungled as it was, pitiful as the results were, the standoff was a situation where a handful of men believed that the end justified the means. Trillanes claimed it was his “moral obligation as a public official and ex-soldier” that led to the Manila Peninsula standoff. If every unhappy war veteran believed that, GMA would have been assassinated long ago. The difference between a man like Trillanes and a man like former Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, dubbed the butcher of Central Luzon, is that Trillanes’ cause is legitimate, and Palparan’s is not. But that’s a matter of personal opinion, and who’s to say that Trillanes won’t decide it is his moral duty to begin assassinating men he believes are corrupt officials?

Trillanes and his people argue that there are no other means, yet they themselves walked out of one of democracy’s check-and-balance processes—a court proceeding. Even those who support the call for Ms Arroyo’s resignation do not wander into hotels with M16s and demand change—that is the way of the terrorist, and that is the one way to ensure that a cause is delegitimized.

If the government didn’t bungle its response and, therefore, inadvertently change the angle of the story, Trillanes’ cause, and that of so many human rights advocates and freedom fighters, would have been compromised.

That the government overreacted is of course doubtless. Reporters in handcuffs, a sudden overnight curfew, a tank smashing into a hotel lobby—all of these were unnecessary, and to be expected only from a trigger-happy government that has little respect for civil liberties. Hauling journalists to Camp Bagong Diwa to “verify their identities” is nothing short of moronic, second only to PNP Director General Avelino Razon’s bluster that they will countersue “our media friends” for obstruction of justice. If the Philippine National Police is so certain that media people monumentally obstructed justice in the performance of their duties, then Razon and his merry men can make their case before a judge. It is an accusation that shouldn’t simply be used as a hammer to frighten ABS-CBN and other media institutions. It has nothing to do with cuffing media people and fingerprinting them for reasons even policemen are not certain of.

And yet—and this is the more important point— all this must not take away from the fact that Trillanes and his men must be held responsible for their crimes. A distaste of violence and violent threat is one that has to be emphasized in a country that is frequently turning apathetic to deaths and disappearances well outside legal frameworks.

It is difficult to condemn someone who condemns human rights violations, corruption and the unnecessary agonies of so many of the AFP’s brave men. Yet it is a necessary condemnation, the same condemnation that must be aimed at members of the New People’s Army who threaten villages in the countryside, the same condemnation against college fratmen who bludgeon initiates to death, the very same condemnation against the death squads that play both judge and executioner in Davao.

“Dissent without action is consent,” says Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, one of Trillanes’ “partners.” In this case, to support Trillanes’ actions because of his cause is not simply dissent to GMA and what she stands for. It is also consent to violence, and that consent, in the future, may unleash hands that are not as seemingly benevolent as those of Senator Trillanes.

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