Sunday, July 27, 2003

Coup in the Philippines? The Dance of the Three Stooges

On June 2, in Rebuilding the Armed Forces of the Philippines the Belmont Club introduced the three main actors in the current military rebellion in the Philippines.

The most damaging act of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos was to capture the Armed Forces of the Philippines and turn it into his power base. The last years of the dictatorship saw Philippine institutions partitioned between rival political camps. One camp grafted itself onto Church institutions, nongovernment organizations and business organizations. The Marxists entrenched themselves in the university system and in certain sections of the mass media. And the dictator dug himself into the Armed Forces. Nearly 20 years after the EDSA revolution, many aspects of this division remain. If the Philippines is to survive, the Army, the academe,  mass media and the Church have to be "recaptured" by ordinary folk and restored to their normal functions. The Army has to become just an Army, the colleges just colleges, and the Church just the Church, again.

All three of the factions, the military, the Church-business alliance and the Left were wrestling again for the levers of power today.

Dozens of armed rogue military officers stormed a commercial center in downtown Manila early this morning, placed explosives in the area and demanded that Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her government resign.The fatigue-clad soldiers issued a statement that accused Arroyo of planning to "explode bombs everywhere" in August, blame it on opposition groups and then declare martial law. -- Washington Post

Among the alleged reasons for the military rebellion of a group of supposedly junior officers (the Belmont Club predicts that senior officers are the real masterminds) were that the Philippine Army was "selling arms and ammunition to Muslim and communist rebels", an accusation already publicly made by former rebel hostage Fr. Circilo Nacorda and rescued American missionary Garcia Burnham. The third actor made its appearance immediately. The Church and business alliance responded to the military rebellion by holding a nonstop vigil at the EDSA Shrine in order to support President Arroyo, a tactic which is simply a scaled-down version of the original mass rallies at the EDSA Shrine which catapaulted Arroyo into power in the first place.

Arroyo has given the rebels until 10:00 Zulu in order to surrender before assaulting the position. That's a howler right there. The Philippines has no real night fighting capability, and even fewer capable assault troops. Given that many of the rebels are from the local equivalent of the US 75th Ranger Regiment (the Philippine Scout Rangers), it is obvious that the Philippine Special Forces community will be divided at best. Moreover, the proximity of so much valuable commercial property and upper class lives nearby means that the assaulting forces will not have any adequate supporting fire.

What happened? Here's Belmont Club's speculation. The drug dealers and perps in the Army have long regarded President Arroyo as the creature of the Church-business community. Some of their pickings must have gotten slim, of late. The principal spokespersons of the Army, the Panfilo Lacons, the Gringo Honasans and the Juan Ponce Enriles were on the political wane. The talismanic link to Marcos, Joseph Estrada, is in prison. Faced with a decline revenue stream, they therefore they struck at Arroyo where it hurts most: in the property base of her business supporters. The seizure, then release of the Australian ambassador means that business prospects in the Philippines will take a dirt nap and stay dead for the forseeable future. The military rebels have adopted Leftist iconology ("Magdalo") armbands to appeal, if only momentarily, to the Left (who are their arms customers anyway and suppliers of raw drug product). And the Left will only be too glad to see business fail. Bad news is good news for them. They reckon that Gloria won't be able to take them down. And Gloria won't. At least by her self-imposed deadline. Not with the sick and puny capability of the divided Armed Forces. The military rebels understand that the Church-business people will response with appeasement tactics, what Belmont Club has called the pancit strategy, and any sanction against them will be token, at best.

The Belmont Club has dissected this sickness in fair detail in Rebuilding the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The last paragraph of that post was:

The key to recapturing the Army is to root it in a reserve system in which ordinary society is a full participant. The Belmont Club will expand on this in the future, but the spirit of the ideal reserve system is embodied in the fact that the deadliest fighter squadrons in the US Airforce and the most elite snipers in the Israeli Army consist of reservists. When the Armed Forces of the Philippines can approach the efficiency of Jollibee and approximate the persistence of Malabanan, then the end of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is truly near.

Perhaps one day, but for now, the Three Stooges of Philippine Society are struggling over their share of face-smearing cream pie. No clean faces. A pox on them all.