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The Game of the Generals

PHILIPPINE STAR/ KRIZ JOHN ROSALES

Much has happened that has changed the Philippine military since Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr. declared martial law in September 1972. One of the first things that Marcos Sr. did was to revise the order of battle for the military in the Bagong Lipunan (New Society) that was to be the gameboard of autocratic rule. (Ominously, Game of the Generals was a strategy board game designed and made popular during Martial Law.)

In 1972, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was reduced by the retirement of the World War II-era officers and soldiers, and even the last 1942 graduates of the Philippine Military Academy who had completed their mandatory 30 years of service. It was a natural mandate to reorganize and expand the armed forces, from a force of 57,100 in 1971 to 113,000 personnel in 1976 — a significant 97.89% increase over a five-year period.1

“Marcos (Sr.) carried out the ‘largest reshuffle in the history of the armed forces’ when he forcibly retired 14 of the AFP’s 25 flag officers, including the AFP Chief of Staff, the AFP Vice-Chief of Staff, the commanding general of the Philippine Army, the Chief of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), the commanders of all four Constabulary Zones, and one third of all Provincial Commanders of the PC. Generals loyal to Marcos were allowed to stay in their positions past their supposed retirement age or were rewarded with civilian government posts.” Since the declaration of martial law until 1980, there were 349 officers and 830 enlisted personnel, or a total of 1,179 detailed outside the AFP.2

“This led to a loss of morale among the middle-ranks of the AFP, because it meant a significant slowdown in promotions and caused many officers to retire with ranks much lower than they would otherwise have earned.”3

“The abolition of civilian institutions like Congress, the weakening of the judiciary, and the outlawing of political parties, left the military as the only other instrumentality of the National Government outside of the Presidency. The military had been called to save the Republic and restore confidence in the ‘democratic traditions’ cherished by the Filipinos. In a country with no militaristic tradition — and where the military was traditionally low key — the AFP became very visible, performing a more expanded mission, such as security, law and order, administration of justice, greater management and administrative functions, and developmental, political and miscellaneous roles.”4

The system of patronage born of the dictator which seduced the top echelon of the armed forces was an unwanted child in the erstwhile close-knit military organization. Low morale festered, especially among the young officers who perhaps felt confused that the principles of Courage, Loyalty, and Integrity drilled into their brains and hearts at military school did not quite match and fit into the reality that they were experiencing in Martial Law.

“During the traditional PMA Alumni Parade at graduation time on 21 March (1985), some 300 young officers, mostly from Classes 1971 to 1984, broke away from the long line at the parade ground to display a banner marked ‘Unity Through Reforms.’ They wore T-shirts that said ‘We Belong.’ It was the day before the customary Commander-in-Chief’s address to the graduating class, thus marking the first public protest of the military during the Marcos regime.”5

“We Belong” (together, in democratic love and service to the country) versus “We bulong” (literally translated as “We whisper” and kowtow to the dictator-leader) divided the military like broken glass, never to be repaired. “We Belong” was formally organized as the “Reform the Armed Forces Movement” (RAM) that spearheaded the ousting of Ferdinand E. Marco, Sr. in the EDSA Revolution in February 1986. Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, who sought refuge at Camp Aguinaldo because of an alleged assassination plot by a rival Marcos bigwig, and Chief of Staff Gen. Fidel Ramos then called on the people (through Cardinal Sin) to converge at EDSA, and history wrote the awesome victory of the return of democracy in the country.

It is utterly devastating to the collective consciousness that the EDSA Revolution seems to be losing its importance in history, as attempts are observed at revising history and decimating the passionate heroism of the people for freedom and rights. In succeeding leaderships after EDSA I, the military seems to still be considered as the key support for being in full control, and this is reinforced by the executive prerogative of the president to choose the Chief of Staff of the AFP.

But what might be a benign administrative act has degenerated into some sort of an unashamed reward system where retired generals are appointed by the president to top positions in the civilian government. The administrations of Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Benigno Aquino III named former men in uniform to key government agencies.

But the undisputed champion is Rodrigo Duterte, who appointed 59 retired military generals, police directors, admirals, and colonels to the Cabinet and other agencies, including government-owned corporations.6 Duterte also appointed 11 Chiefs of Staff who retired successively within months of each other, serving an average 202.5 days each among them. Before the end of Duterte’s term, Republic Act 11709 was enacted, directing that the AFP chief of staff, vice-chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, heads of the major services (Army, Navy, and Air Force), unified command commanders and inspector general will have a three-year term of office “unless sooner terminated by the President.”7

Some military men might bristle at insinuations that the “point system” of appointments (tongue-in cheek for “the lucky guy that the political power points his finger at… and chooses”) is instantly branded as unqualified and incompetent for the civilian position. Observers might caution not to judge unfairly and instead give the appointee a chance to prove himself. But there’s significant and exclusive work experience in the military which sets retired officers and soldiers apart from the ordinary citizen who understandably has self-centered priorities of survival and quality of life through the facility of a career. Soldiery has the mental set of altruistic service towards country and fellowmen — that working philosophy might be tested when the terms of engagement, as in a civilian appointment by a benefactor who would expect loyalty above all. To be more direct — should a retired general accept a position of power and influence, with generous compensation, and risk losing his independence and principles to pay for his debt of gratitude (utang na loob) towards his benefactor? For that is the quid pro quo of patronage.

What for must a retired officer further involve himself in politics? A retired (full) General can get lifetime pension of up to P190,975.88 per month, computed on 85% of highest base pay plus longevity pay for the maximum number of years served. (The pension lowers as the rank lowers, with the lowest, Brigadier General, still getting about P100,000 per month pension or close to this. The AFP retirement pension rates for all military ranks down to Private [who get close to P20,000 per month] are publicly displayed at the AFP Finance Center bulletin board in Camp Aguinaldo.) A military retiree does not have to forfeit or suspend receipt of pension if he/she would accept employment and compensation in another government office or agency. Perhaps the double compensation from government can be too tempting to refuse.

The pension paid to more than 137,000 eligible military retirees is P14,025,351,666 per quarter, or P4,675,117,222 per month.8 Because the AFP pension plan is unfunded (insufficient capital funding ab initio), this is taken directly from the 2023 General Appropriations Act, as it is funded from the national budget yearly, and shouldered directly from the current year revenues (from taxes and borrowings). The annual military pension of P56 billion is roughly 1% of the P5.268-trillion National Budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023.

Comes now the thought: might the retired generals co-opted to continue in high civilian government positions think of the country, and inhibit themselves from availing of more economic benefits and the indubitable opportunities of extended power and influence in government? In the US and other countries like France and Japan, there are ethical codes prohibiting certain retired government officials from working for civilian government offices or private enterprises for some years after government service.

Perhaps it can be inserted in the amended RA 11709 or a new law can be made that a retirement waiver is to be signed by those top brass who have been endowed with secured three- or four-year tenures, that they cannot accept civilian positions in government for at least two years after retirement from the military.

That should weaken the patronage culture in the military. A good move for all in the Game of the Generals.

1 Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, Oct. 3, 1990

2 Ibid.

3 “The Davide Report: Political Change and Military Transition in the Philippines, 1966-1989: From the Barracks to the Corridors of Power.” Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines via the Republic of the Philippines National Government Portal (gov.ph)

4 Ibid.

5 Official Gazette citing Col. Hector M. Tarrazona, After EDSA, Vol. 1

6 newsinfo.inquirer.net, June 27, 2017

7 pna.gov.ph, May 17, 2022

8 pna.gov.ph, Jan. 13, 2023

Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.

ahcylagan@yahoo.com

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