Thursday, July 20, 2006

Game of the Generals

By: Gladstone A. Cuarteros

The showing of the video where Brig. General Danilo Lim reads a prepared statement declaring his withdrawal of support from Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as her commander in chief proves that while the alleged coup plot was unsuccessful, the key players remain very important five months after. The generals of the Armed Forces need them in their game. A game where they seek advantaged position on who shall be the next AFP chief but at the same time protect themselves and their reputations. Especially because within the military rumors abound that some generals have reportedly gave their tacit approval on the coup plot.

The plot got nipped in the bud when GMA declared a state of national emergency in February 24, 2006 and this lasted for a week. Though the proclamation of national emergency has since been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Courts months later, it scuttled implementation of the coup plot not discounting the trifling efforts of the Marines during the Sunday stand-off. And so we thought that was the end of it. What remains is the formal investigation by the AFP. Besides General Lim- the supposed leader was already relieved from his post in the elite Scout Rangers Regiment of the Philippine Army and was ordered confined to barracks and not allowed to freely move around pending the investigation.

Until recently there was relative silence on what will happen to Lim and to the different groups of military activists who are implicated in the alleged plot to unseat GMA. The formal investigation started only two months after February, perhaps an indication government has no solid proof a conspiracy that the administration peddled to the public when it declared state of national emergency. And so waiting for the completion of the investigation, the AFP through Chief of Staff Gen. Generoso Senga has no cases filed nor sanctions imposed on the military activists.

Well none yet. But with the airing of the Lim video plus the leak to Philippine Star of the draft investigation report, they will surely hasten the investigation and Senga, who had hoped that the investigation will take long time beyond his term may need to act on Lim's case after all.

Senga is set to retire on July 21, 2006 when he reaches his 56th birthday. As Chief of Staff he needs to approve the recommendations of the investigation panel before Lim and the others will either charged in a court martial or in civilian courts. In February Senga immediately ordered investigation of the military officers and enlisted men who supposedly are part of the aborted coup but the investigation panel led by AFP Inspector General Rear Admiral Rufino Lopez began its work only two months after.

Since then the investigation panel did its work rather silently. Despite of insistent queries coming from the media asking updates on the investigation, the AFP said the team of Rear Admiral Lopez has not submitted their report yet. Besides, the military spokesperson emphasized, the investigation is internal to the AFP.

And so who gave ABS-CBN the Lim video? Who leak the draft report? As a result of airing the video and subsequent leak of draft report, Senga himself ordered another investigation. In the end we may never know who actually did the leakage but that interestingly is where is the twist comes. In the positioning for the next AFP chief – the one who will succeed Senga, the case of Gen. Lim and the suspected coup plotters, unfortunately for them, become the central issue. For sure this isn't incidental.

Among the senior AFP generals Army Chief Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon is widely seen as the next AFP Chief of staff. He is is well qualified and is close to GMA having served her at one time as commander of Presidential Security Group. During the crisis in February Esperon is reportedly the intrepid officer who rejected the suggestion of Gen. Lim for the whole AFP to withdraw support from GMA as President and commander in chief. Instead he defended GMA and urged the AFP top brass to remain loyal to the so-called chain of command.

However while Esperon is tough his credibility is in doubt because he is one of the generals mentioned in the 'Hello Garci' tapes, which an issue that is highly emotional to the soldiers and among the root causes of the military activism. The allegations that GMA cheated her way to Malacanang using the military remain unresolved because the administration is thwarting every effort to unearth the truth behind the 2004 presidential elections.

Until yesterday's announcement of his appointment as the next AFP chief, Esperon does not have it on the bag yet. Yes he has the edge because he is close to GMA and has stood for her in critical times of her administration but the context of appointing him is perhaps unfavorable. He is so much tainted with 'Hello Garci' that making him chief of staff may further embroil the restiveness of the sectors in the military.

Secondly he may not get the nod of the powerful Commission of Appointments. Third and more importantly, at this troubled times the military needs both a stabilizer and deodorizer. Stabilizer in the sense that he can at least manage the restiveness within and deodorizer in the eyes of the public because the appointee is neither implicated in election fraud nor have been involve in any wrong doing. Senga is in that mold, a less gung-ho but is respected and acceptable to the troops and the public.

The context at this time tends to favor Navy chief Admiral Mateo Mayuga of getting the post. Mayuga was never implicated in controversies. He is being considered by GMA for the post. He was also the then AFP Inspector General who investigated the military involvement in election cheating as revealed in the Hello Garci tape. His 'raw' report on this investigation said to be rich in detail and compromising for some generals was never shared with the public, in fact he was criticized by some for allowing his report to be 'sanitized' before it was released to the media. Of course Mayuga denied the allegations and for us – the public, we may never which is which. It is discomforting however that he was appointed Navy chief before the Mayuga Report came out.

Still two other factors could work for him. One is the unvalidated endorsement of Gen. Senga, and two is context wherein there is continuing restiveness in the most disciplined and well-trained Marine Corp. We can say that Senga wanted a person just like him – less controversial, respected and acceptable. But putting it that way is a little bit simplistic. We should go back to the February unimplemented coup. Newsbreak observed delays and vacillation in the positioning of Senga as regards what to do with Gen. Lim and Col. Ariel Querebin of the Marines in the early hours of February 24 when the plot was uncovered. This fueled speculations about him and his loyalty to the commander in chief at that time.

Now the vacillation seems continuing which intrigues us in fact. Is it just hesitation or because of some sympathy to the cause of the military activist after all they are fighting for honesty and rebelling against the weakening of democratic institutions. If it is sympathy to the cause then having Mayuga as AFP Chief would somehow put Danny Lim and the Magdalo in 'safer hands'. He would be more considerate because when he investigated the military involvement in election cheating he himself heard the complains and misgivings of military officers. There were at least 32 officers who testified during the course of his investigation last year, most of which are said to be frank and candid.

Although the context is not favorable to Esperon, GMA can always take the risk of appointing him. She would not want an AFP Chief who vacillates. At this times where she ordered all-out war against the communist New Peoples Army (NPA) and faced with an ever restless military who are highly dissatisfied with her, GMA might want a bolder AFP Chief .

Some groups within the military particularly those close with GMA have fears by that Gen. Senga might not act at all on the case of Lim et al or will act but just give them slap on the wrist. The AFP Inspector General has already submitted his 43 (10 page longer than what was leaked) page Report to Senga five days after the Lim video was aired. Senga upon receiving it committed to study the Report and inform the public about it. We acknowledge the good general is now in a bind but for once we hope to see his resolve. If he believes the cause of Gen. Lim and others is valid and their intentions are sincere plus the fact that the coup was not implemented anyway then he could disapprove recommendations of a court martial proceedings. Or at the very least Gen. Senga can remand the report to the AFP Inspector General for further investigation and gathering of more evidence.

The second factor that can work for Mayuga is the restive Marines. Forget about the Scout Rangers Esperon will take care of them. The 8,000 strong Marine Corps is not new to coups but learning from 1989 coup experience where Marines fought fellow Marines, the unit resolved that once they get involved again they will do it as a united Marines. What upsets the Marines is unresolved election cheating where they were witness on how the military was used to manipulate the results of the 2004 presidential elections. Among the contenders naturally Mayuga commands their respect being the head of Navy. If Mayuga gets the post, his will help in managing their restiveness. Recently there are proposals to dissolve the Marine Corps but we think these are all just part of the 'empty talk'.

It comes at a more conspicuous times that the leakage is followed by important accomplishments like recapturing of the Magdalo ring leaders. Perhaps sensing that Esperon is not sure of getting the AFP chief post, some groups made the media leakage so as to put pressure on Malacanang by indirectly reminding them of Esperon's roles in many previous circumstances. He 'helped' them in the elections and he 'saved' them in February. The recapture of the Magdalo leaders was the result of a joint operation by Intelligence Service of the Philippine Army (not the ISAFP) and the PNP.

It is the Philippine Star that carried the story of the 38 military officers that will be charged in connection with the February coup plot. We remember reading from Star publisher himself that Esperon paid him a visit a week before. Could it be that one of the many things they discussed is the draft Lopez Report? We are only asking.

But where will Gen. Lim et al be after this game of the generals? As we saw in the haste to submit the investigation report by the Rear Admiral Lopez, it is clear that action will be expedited on the case, be it either favorable to him or otherwise. There is already one news spin that Lim saved the administration from the fury of the junior officers when he prevailed on them from storming Malacanang. He also had a one-on-one meeting with DOJ Secretary Raul Gonzales few days ago. How far these could help him we are not sure. We could only hope that his sincerity and noble ideals, which we think is shared by majority in the AFP will influence the action on his case.

Beyond the manuevers this game of the generals emphasize a couple of things. First GMA is hostage by the military and the police. For sure the officials of the administration will not accept this assertion but reality dictates they could not make independent decisions but have to make devil's bargain with the top brass of the AFP. In order to stay in power the GMA had pampered senior officers and kept them loyal to her. Part of this is the continued division within the AFP and the wide dissatisfaction with the administration.

Second is the problem of political connections rather than merit in clinching key promotion or appointments. It requires military officers to have dalliances with political groups that can help in getting appointment. So as military officers they don't mind if they help in election cheating because such help is a political capital in the future. This reflects how weak the military institution is just like other democratic institutions that we have. And when aided by a broadcast network who wants its news program to get high ratings what you get is a game of positional advantage with insinuations of blackmail.

July 12, 2006

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