Mon, 25 Aug 2003

PMA a hatchery of coup makers?

Amando Doronila, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Asia News Network, Manila

The role of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in strengthening democracy in this country has come under the glaring spotlight of scrutiny in the wake of the failed July 27 coup.

The PMA was conceived as the training ground of the officer corps who are to lead the Philippine military. But within a space of 17 years, between 1986 and July 2003, Philippine democracy has been rocked and threatened by eight coup attempts, all of which were led by PMA alumni.

The Philippines has had more coups than the Latin American banana republics had in the age of coups in the 1970s; and Indonesia, where the Indonesian army has played a pivotal role in toppling regimes, notably that of president Sukarno in the 1960s.

The succession of coups in the Philippines has raised questions on whether the PMA is a foreign body in a democratic ambience; whether the PMA graduates have imbibed the democratic culture; and whether the academy has, indeed, proved to be a nursery of anti-democratic ideas and methods, a hatchery of coup makers, whose education has been subsidized by taxpayers' money.

The record of PMA alumni in staging coups is unlike that of military academies in advanced democracies. The PMA is patterned after the U.S. military academy at West Point. But the latter has never in its history produced a cabal of officers who challenged the civilian supremacy in the United States, and the authority of the American president as commander in chief of the armed forces, no matter how distasteful his decisions have been.

There were, of course, impulses of caesarism from West Point graduates -- the prime example being the late Gen. Douglas MacArthur who was sacked by president Harry Truman from his Far Eastern Command over a conflict of policy on the Chinese intervention in the Korean War. But MacArthur took his dismissal without a murmur of defiance despite his brilliant campaign in the Inchon landings.

Two leading Western democracies -- Britain and France -- have famous military academies, Sandhurst and St. Cyr, respectively, but these academies have never been the nursery of putschists. Britain and France had been imperial powers, in which their armies gave them military glories during the wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, highlighting the role of military leaders. Wellington, came under close scrutiny from the Whig opposition in the British Parliament for his cautious campaign in the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars.

During the Algerian war, a number of French generals were involved in coup plots against the Fourth Republic, which was cracking under the strain of the Algerian crisis, but president Charles de Gaulle, himself a brigadier general, smashed the plot after he was vested with wide emergency powers to reform the Fourth Republic, which he did starting with a new constitution that anchored the Fifth Republic, his own concept of a strong presidency in a modern parliamentary democratic context.

Despite these sporadic impulses of unrest in the French army officer corps, no coup was ever mounted to overthrow the more than 40 governments in a revolving-door regime change in the crisis-prone Fourth Republic.

The parent coup was staged by Napoleon together with the directorate to restore order in the wake of the anarchy of the Reign of Terror and in the face of the threat of invasion posed by the coalition of France's neighbors which backed the move to restore the Bourbon monarchy decapitated by the French Revolution.

Despite these earlier impulses of military interventions in France, the military has been reined in, such that it has never been a threat to the continuity of civil governance in the French Republic even between wars.

No military cabal has ever emerged from either Sandhurst or St. Cyr. France's and Britain's officer corps never formed a military caste defined by their association with the academies.

Our pattern of developing a military caste is based on the unique PMA class system that has fostered bonds among the class members, bonds which have proved to be stronger than their loyalty to the larger constitutional principles, such as, the supremacy of civil authority over the military. The coups, from the l980s and the one in 2003, illustrate how fragile the loyalty of the PMA-trained officer corps is to Philippine democracy and we should be disturbed by this.

From the political statements of the numerous coups, the PMA curriculum has produced not only a culture, but also the dangerous "savior mentality" that holds that the officers have the right to overthrow a government, according to their norms of legitimacy.

Why the PMA and its class system have been the breeding ground of officers who spearheaded coups should be one of the key issues that the Feliciano Commission should address in its inquiry into the recent events at the Oakwood Hotel. We are nursing in the PMA the virus of anti-democratic culture that is incompatible with the principle of civilian supremacy over the military, which notion is the cornerstone of constitutional democracy.

Our version of military intervention in politics is out of step and outside the wave of democratization for the past 30 years. That Oakwood took place 17 years after the restoration of democracy should shock us into realizing that our democracy is incubating its own enemies in one of its own elite leadership institutions -- the PMA and the military establishment.