Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Coup de main or Coup de'etat or Coup de the'atre

For the IPD Web
Patrick I. Patino

Coup de main or Coup de'etat or Coup de the'atre
Don't we have anymore options?

The 8th of July 2005 struck a fatal blow to President Arroyo's reign in Malacanang. Ten cabinet members and advisers of Mrs. Arroyo resigned en mass and called for her resignation for manipulating election results that won her the 2004 presidential race. Close allies, Senate President Drilon, the Liberal Party and former President Aquino withdrew support from Arroyo. A section of the elite business community joined the chorus for her resignation.

There was anticipation that the countdown of the fall of the Arroyo government had started. But the declaration of neutrality of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) High Command and the Philippine National Police (PNP) National Directorate saved Arroyo. The neutrality of the military and the police radically shifted the balance of forces in favor of Arroyo. Former President Ramos and House Speaker de Venecia with congressmen and local officials in tow rushed to Malacanang and stayed behind the beleaguered President. After a couple of days, Arroyo further gained breathing space, when the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines came out with an open-ended pastoral letter, essentially a neutral position. Surviving from the fatal crack of her political base, Arroyo and her allies went on a series of offensives – killing the impeachment complaint in the House of Representatives; obstructing other venues in the pursuit of charges against Arroyo through Executive Order 464 (a presidential directive that requires government executives, military and police officials to get clearance from the president, before they can testify at legislative hearings). And barricading the remaining constitutional venue of the anti-Arroyo struggle – the streets – through the Calibrated Preemptive Response (CPR) policy. The Arroyo government was able to confine the political and democratic struggle of the anti-Arroyo movement to a small fraction of the population.

Arroyo survived and regained strength but failed to break the impasse in the political crisis. Neither has the administration gained the upper hand in the political conflict as its dilemma of legitimacy and credibility remains, the very issues that ignited the raging political fire.

The shutdown of the legal and constitutional avenues of dissent resulted in a protracted political crisis and raises the chances of military intervention. The neutrality of the AFP also causes nervousness as there are sections in the military that came out with contrasting position. Since then, rumors of a coup swirl around. On July 11, the Revolutionary Patriotic Alliance (formerly Reform the Armed Forces Movement - RAM) called for Arroyo's resignation or impeachment. The Young Officers Union (YOU) made a sharper call on July 22, that called for the ouster of Arroyo. The RAM and YOU figured prominently in the late 80s during the failed coup attempts to unseat President Aquino. Former YOU members, who have either retired or are working in the burucracy, disclaimed their organization's statement, thus the birth of YOU new generation. YOUng is a clandestine organization believed to be composed of the former members of YOU, now senior or middle-level military officers , that have apparently regroup together with the reformist elements of the current crop of junior officers.

On Oct. 18, YOUng released a statement that, “strongly demand for the last time that Mrs. Arroyo and her corrupt officials and generals resign immediately and avoid bloodshed. Otherwise, bloodshed will be on their side.” On Dec. 7, the LTA Building in Makati was strafed and followed by a Declaration of the Enlightened Warriors sent to the press claiming the attack. The Declaration avered, “calling fellow men and officers in the armed forces and all Filipino people to rise up as one to bring down the Arroyo regime and help set up an entirely new government of genuine reforms in the soonest time possible.” There seemed to be a confluence of events because just a week later, detained Magdalo mutineer Capt. Nicanor Faeldon escaped. While on a run away, Faeldon set up his own website coming out with statements calling for civil disobedience among the soldiery and the public.

Coup rumors has been lingering Metro Manila since after July 8. But starting October, a plot of military factions to overthrow the Arroyo administration is appearing serious. There are contributing factors to the seriousness of the plot other than the charges of electoral cheating and corruption of the Arroyo administration. The rumor of the overthrow plot gained momentum after Arroyo relieved Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani and Army Lt. Col. Alexander Balutan from their posts following their defiance of EO 464 and testimony before a Senate committee investigating alleged cheating in the last election. This was followed by Arroyo's change of mind in appointing Major General Samuel Bagasin as commander of the AFP Southern Command. Another was the exposee of Air Force Col. Salvador Daquil of the illegal and exuberant perks of senior officers in the air force. These issues stirred discussions and debates among senior and middle-level military officers, junior officers and the foot soldiers already bereft with grievances of inadequate salaries against high prices of basic commodities, stolen insurances and social benefits, inadequate government services, arbitrary promotions and designations, retired generals overstaying in flush residences in Camps Aquinaldo and Bonifacio, poorly tailored uniforms, among others.

On the other other, while government spokespersons brush aside coup rumors, serious moves are done to dissipate the potentials of military political activism and forceful actions. While creating the “fear of a coup” environment, and reminding the armed forces of abiding the chain of command, the military intelligence intensifies monitoring activities of division, brigade, battalion and company commanders in the field and suspected “destabilizers” within the military. Monitoring order has been allegedly handed to the AFP Counter-Intelligence Group (AFP-CIG) directly under the AFP Chief of Staff and regularly submits intelligence report to the Core 2 (on security matters) of Malacanang and the President. Standard operating procedures were also issued in dealing with “recruiters” who are threatened to be shot if they resist arrest. There are also moves to secure the attachment of the more critical parts of the state apparatus – the armed forces, the police, intelligence and security services - to the political administration through promotions, positions, loyalty checks, commitments are made and rewards promised, provision of housing units while containing the movements of major suspects and “boxing-out” suspected supporters. The administration tried to establish dialog between government and the people, to tone down and redirect energies of political forces, through the formation of a National State Council but failed.

Possibly sensing that the situation is getting out of control, former President Ramos reasserted his option to the resolution of the political instability – an elite consensus to and brass tacks of the Charter Change and the 2007 elections as a framework exit of Arroyo. Ramos doesn't have quantitative force as a negotiating chip with Arroyo but confident that his stature can create a qualitative influence in the political process. He failed as only the trapos could easily compromise with him and easily circumvent their vows.

When FVR failed, the potentials of the situation getting out of hand gets bigger. After years of silence in detention, Magdalo leader Lt./SG Antonio Trillanes IV, challenged the public to decide between two choices – to live with the status quo or act for change. On the same day, four fellow Magdalo members of Trillanes bolted out from their cell in Fort Bonifacio. Coup rumors grow louder and serious.

While protest movements continue to crowd the streets in small numbers and elite political players fail to muster an elite consensus in the resolution of the political crisis, it seems that military intervention is brewing hot as an option to the resolution of the political crisis? Is the economic crisis severe and prolonged enough to fan a coup? Is the chronic political instability favorable for a brilliant, sudden and highly successful stroke of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus able to displace the government from its control of the remainder? Is there a critical segment within the military capable of military forceful actions?

Current conditions may seem unpropitious for military coup de'etat, but the specter of military forceful actions may still be able to exert a perverse influence on the political process. The striking expressions of military discontent to the defense establishment and political leadership are stark reminders that military forceful actions remain very real threat to the uncertainties of the political crisis. Forceful actions of military elements pushed to the wall may turn into a coup de main or with the sudden turn of events, a coup de the'atre.

Is there a capacity for military forceful actions? Military coup abuzz as rumors because divisions among the officers corps and military rebellious factions are widely perceived, thus preventing elements within the military from taking action. Among the military high command and senior military officers, keeping the status quo is in their best interest unless there is a compelling reason that they withdraw support from the president or stay away when forceful actions erupt. There is also a perception of widespread public apprehension to a military coup, thus the weak complementation of political forces for military actions.

Philippine history has more record of failed military coups than the coup of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo against Andres Bonifacio, the Palace coup of Ferdinand Marcos in 1972, the military uprising in 1986 against Pres. Marcos, and the military withdrawal of support from Pres. Estrada.

But the potential of a breakthrough coup could radically reverse the ongoing political process. There are two contributing factors to look at. Have the different factions of the military rebellious elements, military reform elements and military political activists arrived at and developed a high level of internal cohesion? Is there a perception of widespread public neutrality towards military forceful actions? Is there a development of the political forces able to compliment the military actions?

On the other hand, even if there is a deep criticism against the government, are the potential military forceful actors aware of their inability to provide alternative political leadership and of the deleterious effects which a military take over would have by unleashing widespread civil and violent strife?

Military coup is unpredictable. Thus, the greater the uncertainties of the protracted political crisis, the higher the unpredictability of a breakthrough coup – rumors will continue, or there may be big one, or a series of actions, or nothing at all. But however unpredictable coups are, they contain certain ever recurring patterns - “the same always different.”



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