The Manila Pen episode affirmed one thing: without the people’s own power, the military acted as arbiter of the Philippine democracy’s future. It ostensibly saved the day for the constitutional order (and, incidentally, the GMA administration’s hide). The military (including those retired ones in civilian positions and those in rebellious mode) has never been in a powerful position such as today in deciding the fate of various political players, not even during the various transitions in recent history.
The episode was outstanding in its manifestation of arbitrariness of military power. The mass arrest of media people, the manhandling of old and respected leaders, and the unprecedented arrest of a bishop–all these point to a military mindset clearly knowing its momentary hold on the scales of power. The arguments of a ground commander’s prerogative, rules of engagement, and the overriding need for order even in the face of constitutional and legal obstacles made this more manifest.
The civilian leadership in Malacañang has painted itself into a corner. Its unprecedented unpopularity and the unremitting opposition to its questioned election has led it to depend more and more on an increasingly tenuous commander-in-chief powers over the military even as it made sure of its control over the civilian police forces. Money flows freely these days. In an irony of Philippine politics, the post-Marcos democracy is increasingly under siege by its own leaders through Marcosian tactics.
The current military pressure for a revival of the Anti-Subversion Law, the unrelenting phenomenon that is the military’s own Operation Phoenix, and even the military modernization scheme betray the military’s own agenda. This is quite apart and distinct from the over-all political framework of the peace process and the search for a lasting solution to the insurgency.
The post-Manila Pen situation indicates a new level of military politicization. Before this, it was the military intervening in politics or negotiating with civilian politicians for its own ends. It is now having illusions about its decisive role in regime change and becoming the nation’s leaders.
In a sense, this is true. In the absence of an electoral or other constitutional remedy, the current political crisis tempts extra-constitutional maneuvers from both sides of the divide. This inevitably brings all to curry favors with the military.
The genie in the camp is waking up. Uneasy must be the one sitting on the throne. The people must take notice.