o you believe in karma? Do you
believe that the good or bad you do ultimately determines your destiny?
those in doubt all you need is to look at the Philippine armed forces today
to turn you from a skeptic into a believer.
When the Americans left the
Philippines in 1946, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was the envy
of the entire region. It was a well-trained, well-equipped, fighting force
led by a cadre of disciplined officers. However, the shine of this
spit-and-polish institution slowly—at times imperceptibly—lost its luster.
In addition, Filipinos were also strongly influenced by the anti-Vietnam
war, counter-culture sentiment sweeping the United States during the 60’s
and 70’s. What US President Dwight D. Eisenhower once called “the
military-industrial complex” was not to be trusted. But with all that said,
the Philippine involvement in the Vietnam conflict was quite minimal. And
the AFP was for the most part spared the derision that the US military
experienced from its citizens at that time.
The single overriding event
that caused the Filipino people to turn their backs on the AFP was Martial
Law. When then President Ferdinand Marcos unlawfully decided to keep himself
and his cronies in power, he used the military not only to suppress the
legitimate will of the people, but to pound them into submission through
fear and intimidation. Not only did Filipinos lose all their rights, they
cowered in fear of soldiers who seemed to relish their newfound power over
the citizenry. During the decades of martial law the military could pick up
and detain anyone it wanted to. And servicemen from generals to buck
privates made sure Filipinos were aware of that fact.
And as the public’s
perception of the AFP rapidly deteriorated, internally the organization also
ceased to be the highly professional organization it once was. For most of
the Martial Law years the military was headed by Fabian Ver, Marcos’s
townmate and onetime chauffer. Nothing but an ROTC graduate, Ver rose
through the ranks not because he possessed a brilliant military mind—he
didn’t, he made it to the top because he was unwaveringly loyal to his
benefactor, the dictator. Ver filled the top ranks of the armed services
with people like him who seemed to both envy and despise their military
The decades of military
abuse that began during Martial Law has taken its toll. Today Filipinos no
longer have the respect or admiration they once had for their military. Men
in uniform are kept at arm’s-length, with a wary eye on them lest they
revert to their “old ways.” Today’s best and the brightest graduates don’t
consider military service as a viable career alternative. The prevalent
perception is that only the unsophisticated from the boonies or the
desperate unable to find work elsewhere join the military.
As some Filipinos might put
it: na karma sila! Our boys in uniform are today relegated to the backwaters
of Philippine society. The armed services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine,
and Coast Guard) have remained underfunded for decades; their equipment allowed to
deteriorate; their ability to accomplish their mission or operate
effectively severely compromised.
And while the US military
has managed to win back the hearts and minds of the American people after
no similar phenomenon has occurred for the AFP post Martial Law.
Unlike the US, there is hardly any public outcry or grieving when servicemen
are killed by bandit groups like the Abu Sayyaf or the New People’s Army (NPA).
Sadly, in its current
state, the AFP cannot protect Philippine territory nor can it secure the
country’s borders. This must change, and change quickly. An increasingly
aggressive China is signaling to the region that the era peaceful
coexistence we have grown so used to for close to seven decades may soon
come to an end. The Philippines must quickly re-fund and professionalize the
AFP. But more importantly, the military must win back the hearts of the
Filipino people. Soldiers must be seen as brave men and women who put their
lives on the line for the country. As we wrote on a previous editorial (click here),
a military draft would go a long way in not just boosting our armed strength while
building men and women of character, but it would strengthen the bonds
between the public and the military, and wipe away the decades of apathy and
mistrust that Filipinos still seem to harbor towards their military.
Some would say “give it
time” but time is what we now have little of. We civilians must now reach out
and strengthen our armed services while simultaneously changing it from within, to turn
it into an institution Filipinos can count on and look up to with
patriotic pride. Published