Sunday, October 31, 2004

The military in a corrupt society

The military in a corrupt society

Updated 00:36am (Mla time) Oct 31, 2004
By Randy David
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 31, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

"MORE than any other comparable Filipino elite, the officer corps had been created and defined by the nation. No other group had its social role, ideology and personal values so directly, so fundamentally shaped by the state." So writes the historian Alfred W. McCoy in his fascinating book, "Closer Than Brothers" (Anvil Publishing), a comparative study of two batches in the Philippine Military Academy-the classes of 1940 and 1971.

Only 30 years separate these two PMA classes from one another, notes McCoy, and yet the difference in mind-set is so sharp that one would have thought they were bred by two distinct institutions. "Class '40 is a study of successful military socialization....Graduating on the eve of war, Class '40 won honors for fighting enemy invaders, were ennobled by privation in Japanese prisoner war camps, and emerged with their bonds and values stiffened....As soldiers in a society permeated by patronage politics, Class '40 faced incessant pressures to compromise. Their careers required, on a daily basis, mediation of the paradoxical, even contradictory role of the military in a democratic society-subordinated to politicians yet apolitical; armed yet nonviolent, all-powerful yet powerless."

At the other end is Class '71, "a study in the breakdown of military socialization," says McCoy. "Instead of fighting enemy invasion, the young lieutenants of Class '71 were brutalized by combat against Muslims in Mindanao and interrogation of suspected subversives in Manila....They emerged from a decade in the safe houses of the Marcos regime with a superman sense of themselves as creator/destroyers who could seize the state and transform society."

It was to Class '40 that men of honor like Gen. Victor Osias and Commodore Ramon Alcaraz, who both refused to compromise with Marcos, belonged. Addressing the members of the PMA class of 1990, who had joined the 1987 coup as cadets, Alcaraz sharply reminded his young audience of what it meant to be a soldier: "Go forth out there and be a strong moral force in transforming the military into a profession of honor which it used to be."

To Class '71, on the other hand, belong the officers who plotted the 1986 coup that led to Edsa I, and controversial figures like colonel and former senator Gregorio Honasan who mounted coups against the Aquino government, and police general and now senator Panfilo Lacson, whose record McCoy associates with torture and summary execution of criminal suspects. McCoy's unkindest depiction of them is as political egomaniacs who played god. Nowhere in the book is there a mention of Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, another member of this class. The information that the US government has shared about the amount of money that General Garcia and his family have brought into the United States over the past 10 years demonstrates the magnitude of corruption in the military. An updated version of the book would no doubt include a whole chapter on General Garcia-one more proof of the decline of honor among the officers who were initiated into the cynical ways of power under Marcos.

It would be unfair to single out one PMA batch and ascribe to it all the failings of military leadership. But indeed no PMA class has figured in more controversies as the Class of '71. This class clearly counted in its ranks many strong individuals with great leadership potential. McCoy's point is that these soldiers used these qualities to ruin the nation in whose image they were cast, because somewhere along the way they lost their basic military values and began to imagine themselves as worthy players in a society ruled by corrupt politicians.

McCoy explains this as a failure of military socialization. This view places the onus of responsibility for the failings of the officer corps on the Philippine Military Academy and its curriculum. We may need to dig deeper than that to understand the problem.

It is a fact that the modern values instilled in the minds of PMA cadets bear little resemblance to the distorted values of our society. But this is nothing unusual. The education of a student in any of our better universities features the same discrepancy. There is nothing wrong with the socialization of our young people. But the ideals they learn at school are easily negated by the practical realities of the world into which they are subsequently thrown. Members of the Class of 1940 remained men of honor because they did not have to contend with political leaders as vicious as those we have today. Like the rest of their generation, they were animated by the spirit of nation-building. Today's politicians are seldom gripped by such ideals. You cannot have professional soldiers in a nation governed by corrupt and incompetent leaders. They will either try to seize power or become part of the rotten system.

Ex-Captain Rene Jarque says as much in a poignant letter he recently wrote to his fellow Filipino West Pointers: "We have known the rottenness of the system all along and how the culture in the AFP was not and is not conducive to professional growth and honest conduct. It was never reflective of the Academy's motto, 'Duty, Honor, Country.' Some of us gave it a chance, found it unwieldy and incorrigible, and left. Some stuck with the system and played it out only to be sucked into the vortex of corruption and unprofessional conduct. I was trying my best to be as professional and as patriotic but I could never be honest given the extent of the graft and corruption in the AFP. And that was, I believed, unacceptable to my sense of honor and integrity. Hence, I left."

Sunday, October 24, 2004

The general's lawyer

The general's lawyer

Updated 00:46am (Mla time) Oct 24, 2004
By Randy David
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 24, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANY who lived through martial law cannot look at a man in uniform without somehow recalling its horrors. It is a perceptual association that has survived the graying of memory. You have to keep telling yourself that the evil was in the regime, not necessarily in the individuals it used.

It's not always easy to heed this voice. Thus it was with much satisfaction that I watched Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia's grilling by a congressional committee. I imagined the young legislators who were questioning him to be the children of our generation, leveling off the score for the countless activists summoned before military bodies during those dark years. For a while, I even forgot that Rep. Imee Marcos, who asked very sharp questions, was the dictator's daughter.

Everything I detested in the military during its heyday -- the smugness, the arrogance, the corruption, and the malevolence -- seemed to merge in the corpulent general's persona. So powerful was the wicked glow he emitted that I thought it gave even his seatmate -- the kindly Gen. Narciso Abaya -- a shadowy mien. If a man's culpability were to be determined by the way he looked, there was no question General Garcia was a guilty man.

It was in the middle of these ruminations that I suddenly caught a glimpse of the general's lawyer seated just beside him. Half-expecting a well-dressed lawyer from the country's expensive law firms or a familiar face from the roster of champions of lost causes, I was totally unprepared for what I saw. The general's counsel looked like my old friend Constantino B. de Jesus, my roommate in school and a dear brother. "That's not Tito," my wife assured me, "the chin is too small." "Of course, it is Tito," I pressed, "without the goatee." Only Tito buttons his cotton barong at the neck. "That's him," I said with increasing discomfort. Tito is a competent, meticulous, low-profile lawyer of unassailable integrity. He certainly does not need the money or the publicity. What, in heaven's name, is he doing beside this man who has practically been pilloried in public as a crook?

Later that day I sent him this message: "You must have a reason for burdening yourself with such an indefensible case. I'm dying to hear it." He replied, "I'll call you later." We met the other day and talked for about six hours about the practice of law, the responsibility of lawyers, the fragility of our institutions, and his own 32-year-career as a litigator, sometimes as a court-appointed counsel for convicts on death row.

"I hope you're being paid well," I said unfairly. "So far, I have received a regular helping of Hall's candy from him," he said laughing. "Of course, the sins of the client should not be visited upon the lawyer," I added, hoping to erase the mild insult I had just uttered. Tito has been my friend since college days at the UP. We meet for lunch at least once a month to exchange notes about family, country, and life in general. To one another, we are as brother, philosopher, and friend. I was surprised he did not seek my advice on whether to take this case or decline it.

"I didn't know him from Adam," he said. "People I implicitly trust asked me to help him. His first lawyer had just withdrawn his counsel, and a congressional committee has been waiting to put him on the stand. I am a lawyer; a lawyer's oath makes no distinction on who to defend."

I asked if he did not think it was necessary for his client to tell him beforehand what his story was. "No, things happened very fast. He was in the hospital. He was facing a congressional investigation and he needed a lawyer to tell him what his rights were. In time, of course, I will have to know and be convinced by his account of the disparity between his declared income and the money and properties that he is supposed to own." He was emphatic that he would never pursue his client's interest at the expense of truth and justice.

The law is about basic fairness, Tito reminded me. Under the rule of law, there is a presumption of innocence until guilt is proven. It is what separates rule of law from mob rule, he said. He lamented media's tendency to highlight the negative aspects of a person's appearance and situation and to take these as indications of his guilt. I could only nod in agreement. By coincidence, I've been reading the book "Supreme Court Decisions as Philosophy" and marked a line in the landmark case of Conde v. City Judge Superable Jr.: "When a litigant is therefore an individual for whom he (the judge) does not cherish kindly thoughts, he is called upon to show greater care lest inadvertently he finds himself unable to resist the prompting of his emotions."

"This is a fascinating case," Tito told me. "I don't regret taking it. It is every lawyer's dream to contribute to the refinement of the law's meaning through jurisprudence." He said there are many novel elements in this case: the anti-money laundering law, the role of the Ombudsman, the proper sphere of a court martial, etc. These and the whole politically charged atmosphere in which this case is being tried will test our resolve to protect our institutions from the instant gratifications of trial by publicity.

How lucky for the general to have a bright lawyer who is neither a crook nor a crackpot. If he is ultimately found guilty, my fear is that, in a culture like ours, his lawyer would be made to bear part of his disgrace. I asked Tito if this does not bother him. He smiled and simply said, no.

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Sunday, October 17, 2004

The poor among us

The poor among us

Updated 09:10pm (Mla time) Oct 16, 2004
By Randy David
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 17, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

I DON'T believe in charity. I suspect we often do it more for ourselves than for those we help. I also think it takes away the urgency from the need to reform society itself. But, in practice, I have trouble ignoring those who come to my door or knock on my car window for help.

My problem is particularly with those who not only extend their hands for alms but also take time to tell their stories. I don't like looking into the defeated eyes of those who, by begging, have surrendered every measure of their pride as human beings.

"Give no bounties, make equal laws, secure life and property," advised Emerson, "and you need not give alms. Open the doors of opportunity to talent and virtue and they will do themselves justice, and property will not be in bad hands. In a free and just commonwealth, property rushes from the idle and imbecile to the industrious, brave and persevering." Emerson is right. But ours has never been a just commonwealth. I refuse to think that the poor in our society are poor because they lack industry, bravery and perseverance.

I cannot forget being rebuffed by a young boy in his teens who was selling flannel cleaning cloth in the streets. "Eight for a hundred," he chanted, fixing his eyes on me. "I just need to sell one more set before I go to school," he said in a tone of exhaustion. Indeed, he was in a school uniform. "Sorry, I just bought some the other day," I responded with genuine regret, "but here take these," I said, offering him a couple of peso coins. He looked at me unsmiling, and chided me with these words: "Sir, I am not begging, I am selling." I felt slighted. I wanted to tell him that I meant well and that he should not be so proud. But, I checked myself: why shouldn't he be proud? As he walked away, I silently rejoiced in the thought that at least one boy in the streets would someday make it in the world.

Since then I have been very cautious in dealing with hawkers and beggars in the streets. Whether I give or not, buy or not, I make it a point to look at the face before me, as an act of recognition. It is the least I can do for another human being. "The face speaks," the philosopher Levinas writes. It communicates its vulnerability at once: "there is an essential poverty in the face; the proof of this is that one tries to mask this poverty by putting on poses, by taking on a countenance."

Recognition, however, triggers a relationship, whose ethics I do not easily navigate. To this day, being in the presence of a person begging for help always produces in me a profound unease. I feel defenseless and trapped; this man is not my responsibility, I tell myself, but why can't I ignore him? He is one of us, that is why, and no Filipino should live without hope, or go without help when he needs it. He is my responsibility, and the concreteness of his situation mocks the abstractness of everything I write or espouse. I have no right to require a rational accounting of a man's despair before I give help.

A little context might explain these musings. About three weeks ago, a frail young man came to my house and introduced himself as Angelo. Though his face was vaguely familiar, I was quite sure I had not met him before. He said he used to work as a contractual janitor at the Palma Hall building in the UP Diliman campus where I teach. He told me that his daughter had been bitten in the head by a rabid dog and needed expensive anti-rabies shots. He said he had been able to raise P700 and he needed P300 more. I felt very sorry for this young father, a picture of desolation and shame. He had been jobless for a while, he said. I hardly said anything; I gave him the money and wished him well.

Angelo showed up again the other day, a little paler than before. Before I could recognize him, he shook my hand. He said he had come to inform me that his daughter had died. She needed more injections and he had been unable to raise the money to buy the expensive shots. I looked at him in disbelief, wondering how many times things like this happen in our hospitals. He had come this time to ask for some money to buy biscuits and coffee for people at the wake. For some strange reason, I instantly thought of all the billions spent during elections, the trillions paid for the public debt, and the distressing state of our public hospitals.

Perhaps Angelo's desperation was infectious; I suddenly felt agitated and angry. I found myself grilling him about the hospital to which he had brought his daughter and the doctor who attended to her. I asked him if he had sought the help of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, or the Philippine Charity and Sweepstakes Office. My reaction confused him. He looked at me with sad uncomprehending eyes, and I realized I had not even offered him my sympathies. When he left, I knew I had behaved very badly. I don't remember how much I gave him. I could have given him all the money in my pocket that day, and it would not have erased the unwarranted pain I had caused him.

I wish I knew when to stop being a social analyst or a political activist. The man had come seeking compassion, and I gave him a lecture and an interrogation. Too often, I think we fail to conduct ourselves as human beings for others because our moral or ideological righteousness gets in the way of our basic responsibility.

Every poor man who comes to us begging for help has a story to tell. We may never know how much truth there is in these tales. But does it really matter? In such encounters I think we must keep our doubts to ourselves, not say anything, and only listen. Levinas sums it up with this line from Dostoyevsky: "We are all responsible for all and for all men before all, and I more than all the others."

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Sunday, October 10, 2004

Will Gloria last?

Will Gloria last?

Updated 04:29am (Mla time) Oct 10, 2004
By Randy David
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 10, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

IT is a question that was asked soon after Congress hastily proclaimed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo winner of the controversial 2004 presidential elections. But the swift withdrawal from the streets of the protesting voters who felt cheated in the canvassing and the filing of a formal election protest by the opposition gave the proclamation an aura of finality. Whatever doubt remained about GMA's legitimacy as a leader was later dispelled by her decisive handling of the Angelo de la Cruz affair.

But now the question is on everyone's lips again. The goodwill she earned from her successful rescue of De la Cruz from Iraqi militants has all but evaporated. Bad appointments to key offices in government, signifying political payback, have eroded her credibility. Bad decisions meant to shore up her popularity before the elections have come back to haunt her. Foremost of these was her move to slash the power charges of the National Power Corp., an act that mired the state firm in a debt quicksand from which it cannot extricate itself. On top of these, her reckless use of public funds in the last elections for programs without any enduring value is now better viewed in the light of Ms Arroyo's own admission of a severe fiscal crisis.

Her political allies in both houses of Congress-the same people who staunchly shielded her votes from close scrutiny-are the same ones who now oppose the measures she has proposed as solutions to the fiscal crisis. They are skeptical of her determination to reform the government, and view her pronouncements about the crisis as nothing but attempts to cow the legislature into submission.

The media have been no less critical. They juxtapose Ms Arroyo's call for austerity with her free spending for members of her family during her recent state visit to China, and her chartering of a private jet so she could attend the wedding of the Sultan's son in Brunei. The effect of this is that, in the public eye, the President merely personifies the same insensitivity and arrogance that seem to be the norm among her people, like GSIS president Winston Garcia. None of these things would perhaps generate the kind of controversy they have triggered if it were not for the hunger that stalks many of our people.

A television report on GMA-7 the other night portrayed the daily scramble of whole families for left-over food retrieved from the garbage bins of Metro Manila's shopping malls. Food that still smells fresh is consumed right then and there. The rest is scraped from plastic bags and re-cooked like pig's scrap for the next meal. Heart-breaking images like these acquire the starkness of a scandal when shown side by side -- for example -- reports of a general's wife who callously boasted of having anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000 when she goes shopping.

A situation like this is not politically sustainable. No government can demand sacrifices of its already starving citizens while a few powerful and wealthy families live as if they were God's chosen people. Something is bound to give. But sheer hunger will not spark a social revolution. For it is not hunger alone that grips the poor; they are also seized by a paralyzing helplessness that takes away the volatility from their anger.

That is why, in the final analysis, it is not the poor who pose a threat to Gloria, but rather the educated and the middle class who voted for her. They had set aside their deep doubts about her capacity to turn the country around, and supported her on the belief that an opposition win would spell a sure catastrophe. But now that she is safely President, they are not about to make it easy for her.

They may understand the historical roots of the fiscal crisis and the unfairness of blaming her for the cumulative sins of all past administrations. But they also know that critical times require extraordinary qualities. They expect a modern mindset and professionalism appropriate to a highly educated President. Above all, they demand leadership by example. Yet Gloria has been anything but exemplary. She conducts her office as if she has not stopped campaigning. One hundred days into her new term, there is still no visible shift in her presidential style, no clear program of government around which the nation could unite, and no inspiring Cabinet to which we could harness our collective hopes.

Will she last? Since the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos by people power and military mutiny in 1986, we have not had a normal political life. All our presidents after Marcos faced serious political challenges either from people power or from the military, except Fidel Ramos, who was lucky to be favored by a world economy in the upswing. Today elections no longer guarantee security in public office. There is no reason to think GMA is exempt. The question is not whether she will last, but how long?

The persistence of people power is an indication that the traditional modes of political succession and governance of our society are no longer suitable for our times. Yet for all their dysfunctionality, their death has been repeatedly postponed by the kind of elections we hold. Our leaders are the same because the system we have hasn't changed. And I don't mean just the presidential system, but the whole obsolete social system that favors inherited wealth and power over personal effort and achievement; a system that dispenses the nation's resources in response to political imperatives rather than social needs, and rewards cunning rather than perseverance.

No president can last while this system endures.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Why Filipinos like Bush

Why Filipinos like Bush

Updated 00:57am (Mla time) Oct 03, 2004
By Randy David
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 3, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

IF Filipinos in the Philippines were voting in the American presidential election, they would give George W. Bush a landslide win over his rival, John Kerry.

Bush is our kind of leader. Like him, we see the world as either black or white. The moral lenses we use divide nations into good or evil, friends or enemies. We do not argue with our enemies, we speak force to them. We prefer bluntness over nuance, decisiveness over deliberation, toughness over intelligence.

Kerry is too soft for us. Too educated and too refined, he is too weak to lead a world whose survival demands the crudeness of a street-fighter rather than the sensitivity of a morally burdened intellectual. The world needs a strong America, and America needs a warrior, not a thinker.

This is the mentality of all colonial dependents, people who despise their own weakness and find easy security in the shadow of bullies. Having turned their back on a legacy of struggle and freedom, they cannot suffer those who continue to oppose domination. The latter's resistance, blind as it may be, assails their own acquiescence.

This mind-set is reinforced when they go abroad. They cannot stand living beside other subordinate immigrants. They assume the bigotry of new converts, and they detest being treated like all the others. The voice of these "New Americans" is exemplified by Michelle Malkin, a journalist of Filipino ancestry, who authored a book titled "Invasion" (Regnery Publishing, 2002). This is her perspective:

"As a first-generation American, I am the new face of the immigration debate. I am sick and tired of watching our government allow illegal line-jumpers, killers, and America-haters to flood our gates and threaten our safety. I am sick and tired of watching ethnic minority leaders cry 'racism' whenever Congress attempts to shore up our borders. And I am especially sick and tired of business leaders, lobbyists, and lawmakers from both major parties caving in and selling out our national security. I believe in immigrant profiling. I believe we should discriminate in favor of foreigners yearning to live the American Dream-and against foreigners yearning to destroy it."

"Profiling" simply means constructing the image of a person on the basis of certain characteristics associated with the group to which he or she belongs. This is what is done in "offender-profiling." A beard or goatee, an Islamic-sounding name, one's country of origin, professional background, race or religion, etc. could, with profiling, trigger a whole course of focused scrutiny or outright detention. Whether acknowledged or not, visa screening rests almost entirely on profiling procedures. What is even more dangerous is that the new post-9/11 legislation in the United States today combines extensive use of profiling with the absolute power to detain all suspicious persons without explanation.

Just because our government is friendly to the United States and supported its war in Iraq does not mean Filipinos will be treated any better at the American Embassy or at US ports of entry. One wonders what good can come out of George W. Bush's habit of lumping the Philippines with Iraq and Afghanistan whenever he refers to the global war on terror. In the first presidential debate in Miami this week, he again made terrorism wear a Filipino face: "But the front on this war is more than just one place. The Philippines... we've got help... we're helping them there to bring al-Qaida affiliates to justice there." Manila is certainly not Baghdad or Kabul, and Mindanao is not Fallujah. Why do we rejoice when the US president refers to our country in this light?

In May this year, a Filipino professor, Abhoud Syed Lingga was stopped at the Los Angeles airport after disembarking from a plane. He was on his way to participate in a series of meetings and fora on Mindanao organized by the United Nations and the US Institute of Peace. He had all the official letters of invitation and a visa from the US Embassy in Manila. But he was from Mindanao and the authorities did not like the sound of his name. His sponsors could not help him; he was sent back on the same plane to Manila.

Yet every day, thousands of Filipinos are undeterred as they line up at the US Embassy and psychologically prepare themselves for questions that routinely challenge their self-respect. Most of them are wasting their time and money. Every Filipino visa applicant is regarded as a potential illegal migrant or worse, a terrorist. Michelle Malkin wants decent Filipino travelers and immigrants to be spared this kind of treatment. But that will not happen as long as the US president considers the Philippines a home of al-Qaida affiliates and a major front in the war against global terror.

The whole world has become a more dangerous place because of Bush. America has earned more enemies because of its decision to invade Iraq without the authority of the United Nations. Americans feel more insecure because of this. And yet ironically, it is this very insecurity that is creating a false need for somebody like Bush. John Kerry is wrong to allow Bush to define terrorism as the key issue in this election. He sounds pathetic when he says, "I believe in being strong and resolved and determined. And I will hunt down and kill terrorists wherever they are." For all his simple-mindedness, no one can speak that line better than Bush.

No, the issue is not global terrorism, but America's behavior in the world.