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Political Role

The military exerted a strong influence on political life during the early 1990s. Observers generally agreed that the armed forces' unprecedented rebelliousness was rooted in the AFP's political role in the Marcos era. Although the military historically had a symbiotic relationship with Philippine politicians, the martial law era (1972-81) produced tremendous growth in the AFP's political role. The growing insurgent challenge spurred rapid growth in the AFP and increased the military's involvement in politics as deployed units worked with local governments to combat the rebels and military tribunals dispensed justice in insurgent-affected areas. As a result, AFP officers became important power brokers at all levels of society, and favored officers were given key government positions or placed on the boards of state-run companies (see The Inheritance from Marcos , ch. 4).

As popular opposition to Marcos grew in the wake of the 1983 Aquino assassination, the president increasingly relied on the military as his principal power base. Marcos concentrated power in the hands of General Fabian Ver who, as military chief of staff and head of the National Intelligence and Security Authority, ensured that critical positions were filled by officers unquestionably loyal to the president. Ver's family and protégés and other ethnic Ilocanos were advanced, often at the expense of better qualified candidates. Lieutenant General Fidel V. Ramos, vice chief of staff and later Aquino's chief of staff and secretary of national defense, pointed to political manipulation of the armed forces as a key factor in his decision to break with Marcos in February 1986.

The RAM was openly critical of Marcos's politicizing of the AFP. Nominally led by Colonel Gregorio Honasan, RAM consisted mostly of graduates of the prestigious Philippine Military Academy, many from Honasan's class of 1971. RAM officers first gained wider public attention in 1985 when, at an academy alumni parade, they openly protested before Marcos and AFP leaders. The officers called for military reforms that would address the problems of favoritism, incompetence, and corruption in senior leadership. Later, these reformists played a key role, along with Ramos and Enrile, in initiating the People's Power (see Glossary) Revolution that brought Corazon Aquino to power (see From Aquino's Assassination to People's Power , ch. 1).

Following the change of government, Enrile, reappointed to head the Ministry of National Defense, and new Chief of Staff General Ramos undertook a series of internal reforms designed to professionalize the renamed New Armed Forces of the Philippines. (After one year, in 1987, the military reverted to its former name, Armed Forces of the Philippines.) Twenty-two generals, whose retirements Marcos had postponed, were quickly dismissed along with other senior officers perceived as Marcos loyalists. In an effort to reduce the armed forces' involvement in government, officers assigned to positions outside the armed forces were recalled. The 1987 Philippine constitution permanently bars retirement extensions, military service in civilian positions, and military personnel's involvement in politics. A widespread program of reeducation and retraining was initiated to instill professional values at all levels.

Despite government efforts, the military did not "return to the barracks," at least not for long. During Aquino's first four years, military elements repeatedly rebelled (see Civil-Military Relations , ch. 4). The first rebellion occurred in July 1986, only five months after the president took office. Several hundred Marcos supporters backed Arturo Tolentino, who had been Marcos's vice presidential running mate in the February election, in a takeover of the elegant Manila Hotel. Following calls for Marcos's return to the presidency, the mutineers surrendered and were punished with fifty push-ups. Later in 1986, RAM officers-- seen as heroes of the February revolution--again emerged as a political force. Rampant rumors of an imminent RAM coup in November led the president to dismiss Enrile, who was seen as the RAM leaders' mentor. Aquino also dismissed several "leftists" from her cabinet in an apparent response to military critics.

Military rebellions continued in 1987, culminating in a coup attempt that seriously threatened Aquino's presidency. On January 27, Marcos loyalists struck again, seizing a Manila television station and some military targets. Although the government quickly contained the rebellion, holdouts did not surrender until four days later. During April, a smaller group of military rebels briefly occupied the Philippine army headquarters in what became known as the Black Saturday rebellion. The mutineers surrendered within hours.

On August 28, RAM launched the most serious coup attempt up to that time. In Manila Honasan led hundreds of troops in attacks on television stations, Villamor Air Base, and the Malacañang Palace. The palace assault failed, and rebel forces eventually rallied at Camp Aguinaldo where they seized the AFP General Headquarters. Military rebels also seized several military camps around the country in simultaneous revolts. The coup collapsed after the first day, and Honasan escaped with several hundred followers. Many believed the coup came perilously close to success.

Underlying the RAM move was deep-seated military dissatisfaction with the government and the belief among military officers that they sometimes had an obligation to intervene in the nation's political life. Reformist leaders complained that the Aquino government was critical of the military and unfairly lenient toward the communists. They called for further reform of the government and military and for a more effective counterinsurgency program. A poll of military officers prior to the August coup attempt showed broad support for RAM's grievances and substantial support for its tactics. More than 75 percent of those polled blamed political incompetence and corruption for NPA growth. Almost all supported a military role in national development, and almost half thought the AFP might have to seize political power to prevent a communist takeover. Following the revolt, the Aquino government responded to some military complaints by improving military pay and benefits.

More than two years passed before RAM acted again, this time with the support of several generals, some Marcos loyalists, and a shadowy new military group called the Young Officers' Union. This long and bloody coup attempt began on December 1, 1989, when rebels launched a series of attacks in Manila and seized a major air base in Cebu. Elite marine and army Scout Ranger units briefly held parts of the army and air force headquarters and Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport before moving against Camp Aguinaldo. Although the attack on the armed forces headquarters failed, rebels seized part of Manila's Makati financial district and bombed the presidential palace grounds. United States warplanes from Clark Air Base overflew rebel bases in a show of support for the president, but they did not fire on the mutineers. The Makati standoff ended on December 7 with the negotiated surrender of the Scout Rangers, and the Cebu rebellion collapsed two days later. Nearly 100 people died in the fighting, and more than 600 people were injured.

The shadow of the 1989 coup attempt and threat of further military unrest hung over much of 1990. Perceived political instability discouraged investors and contributed to an economic downturn, and frequent coup rumors and Manila bombings attributed to military rebels fueled several serious coup scares in the capital. Within the rebel movement, the Young Officers' Union's younger, more radical idealists emerged as a growing force. The group's public statements portrayed them as social revolutionaries. Meanwhile, a presidentially appointed panel investigated the 1989 coup and its causes. The Davide Commission concluded that, although many complaints of the military were legitimate, a hidden agenda--a desire for the power and privilege that the military enjoyed under Marcos--animated the rebel movement.

Data as of June 1991

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