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Headquarters of the Department of National Defense, Manila
Courtesy Robert L. Worden

Historical Background

Philippine military tradition traces the formal beginnings of the national armed forces to the military force established under the revolutionary government in 1897 by Emilio Aguinaldo. The revolutionary army fought successively for independence from Spain and the United States (see The 1896 Uprising and Rizal's Execution , ch. 1). Although this revolutionary army was disbanded in late 1899 after Aguinaldo recognized the futility of meeting the numerically superior and better armed United States forces in frontal engagements, a guerrilla war against the United States continued until 1903. According to their own ethos, the armed forces of the late twentieth century had inherited the people's mandate to defend the sovereignty of the Philippine nation.

The United States colonial government, installed in 1899, made no attempt to resurrect the defeated Philippine army, but military and paramilitary forces still played an important role in national life. For example, the Philippine Scouts were an indigenous military force integrated with the United States forces maintained in the Philippines for external defense.

The Philippine Constabulary, established by the United States administration in 1901, played an important and enduring role. Although originally staffed by Filipinos and led by Americans, the Philippine Constabulary acquired a Filipino chief in 1917, and by 1933 nearly all its officers were Filipino. Constables performed a wide variety of public service roles, acting as jail guards, postmasters, game wardens, and telegraph repairmen, and the Philippine Constabulary's melding of police, paramilitary, and civilian functions provided a model for the later establishment of the armed forces.

The Philippine Constabulary's role in national life waned in the 1920s as civilian institutions began to develop, but military influence rose again with the establishment of the army in 1936, the year after the Philippines achieved commonwealth status. The new army was closely patterned after the United States model. It was envisioned as a small, professional force of some 10,000 regulars, who were to be augmented by a reserve force with an eventual strength of 400,000 by independence--promised for 1946. Although the army's relatively small size seemed to ensure that it would play only a small part in national life, its role in putting down a number of peasant revolts, as well as the growing Japanese threat, forced the army into a more prominent position in the late 1930s. At the beginning of World War II, the Philippine army supported United States forces; when the latter withdrew, it continued protracted guerrilla warfare to combat the Japanese occupation.

Following World War II, the military's influence waxed and waned, based on internal security threats and the inclinations of the national administration. The armed forces became involved in partisan politics in the late 1940s and early 1950s and influenced the 1946 and 1949 elections. In the early 1950s, career officers filled high government posts in the administration of Ramon Magsaysay (1953-57). The drive to defeat the Huk (see Glossary) rebellion in the mid- to late 1940s also involved the military in Central Luzon's local government and led to a great expansion of the armed forces' civic action mission (see The Magsaysay, Garcia, and Macapagal Administrations, 1953- 65 , ch. 1). During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the military's influence declined. Under the administrations of presidents Carlos P. Garcia (1957-61) and Diosdado Macapagal (1961-65), military budgets were reduced, civic action was trimmed, and the armed forces were kept relatively subordinate to civilian control.

The ascent of Ferdinand Marcos to power in 1965 reversed the trend toward professionalism in the AFP. During the twenty years of his rule, he granted unprecedented power to the Philippine military, which became more deeply involved than ever before in the country's political life. On taking office, he reorganized the AFP and shuffled personnel to increase his personal control over the military. A former army officer himself, Marcos was comfortable with military men and developed the armed forces into his principal power base.

The declaration of martial law by Marcos in 1972 set the stage for enlarging the role of the military in society. The armed forces became the government's principal tool to combat the fledgling communist insurgency and, during the mid-1970s, the violent Muslim rebellion. The AFP budget grew rapidly and its strength increased threefold. Civic action operations expanded as part of the military's program to aid rural development, increase support for the government, and undercut the insurgents. The military was involved in administering the national criminal justice system, particularly in insurgent-affected areas. The military also was directly involved in the management of the economy as AFP officers took charge of many major companies, moving far from the original model of a small, apolitical military that performed functions strictly limited to conventional defense against outside aggression.

Although the AFP's influence diminished somewhat following the end of martial law in 1981, Marcos continued to control the military closely through his close friend General Fabian Ver, whom he had installed as AFP chief of staff in 1981. The president directed promotions and assignments and delayed retirements, ensuring that officers personally loyal to him filled key positions.

Filipinos increasingly criticized the personalization and manipulation of the military by Marcos, especially following the military's alleged involvement in the 1983 assassination of his political rival, Benigno Aquino. Discontent also emerged in the military and played a decisive role in Marcos's overthrow. Critical of Marcos's domination of the military and of senior officers' alleged corruption and incompetence, a group of midlevel AFP officers founded a reform movement--the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) in 1982. These officers, led by then Minister of National Defence Juan Ponce Enrile and Vice Chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos spearheaded the February 1986 military leadership of the popular revolt that ultimately toppled Marcos.

Despite the Aquino government's attempts to depoliticize the Philippine military, the February 1986 rebellion against Marcos was not the last uprising. Units loyal to the deposed president mutinied in Manila only months after Aquino took office, and by 1991 there had been six open rebellions against her rule. The two most serious, in August 1987 and December 1989, were led by the RAM officers that had helped bring her to power. In 1991 discontented elements of the AFP, led by fugitive RAM founders, still threatened to unseat the president.

Data as of June 1991

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