Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When there is smoke

This was my column on the date indicated above.This post is antedated.

The rumor that was spreading like wildfire last week was that certain elements in the military were restive and were on the verge of staging a coup d’etat. I know. How very eighties, right? Uso pa ba yun? (are coups still in vogue?)

When someone sent me a text message “warning” me about an impending coup d’etat, my immediate reaction was to dismiss the rumor as the brainchild of someone with too much time in his hands. I figured that a coup is not very likely under the current dispensation because of a number of reasons.

First, regardless of how anyone feels about the competency level or the sincerity of this Aquino administration, it is difficult to argue with its current popularity. It’s just unthinkable for anyone to even try to wrest control from a government that has achieved, and continues to achieve, approval ratings that reach the stratosphere.

Of course, cynics raise an eyebrow and ask what exactly is the subject of those approval ratings when the whole bureaucracy is veritably on a standstill and government programs, except the high profile ones that merit media attention, are virtually on hold. This is because everyone in government is suspected of potentially being a corrupt person and each transaction is forced through a sieve that’s almost as impermeable as a latex condom. They claim that what is happening is the perfect example of the axiom “less action, less mistake, less criticism.”

But like I said, it is difficult to argue with popularity. So those who are increasingly becoming disenchanted with this administration just have to gnash their teeth in silence, seethe in private, and wait for their time to come. In this country, most everything that goes up eventually comes crashing down. As the folks say, “weather-weather lang yan (it’s all a matter of time).”

Second, any coup needs the support of certain key segments of the population particularly business, religious, and civic groups. A military junta is clearly not an option in a country where political patronage is deeply embedded in its culture. In a system where even military generals owe political debts to senior military officials, politicians, and businessmen, everything is subject to political favors. The complicity of certain key people has to be secured in order for a coup to be mounted. Obviously, no businessman, religious or civic leader would be stupid enough to lend his or her name to a military uprising in these times. The stakes are just too high and the probability of success practically negligible.

Three, a coup requires a critical mass of loyal followers for an inspiring revolutionary leader. No offense meant to the current leaders of our military establishment, but there is no one with the charisma or the perceived idealism of a Gringo Honasan or an Ariel Querubin or even an Antonio Trillanes among them. At least that’s based on what we ordinary citizens can glean from media reports.

There are more reasons why a coup is not likely to prosper (we’re not even talking success here), but you get the drift.

Admittedly, however, there are mitigating factors that can potentially be milked into becoming major issues worthy of an uprising.

There is the massacre of 19 soldiers in Basilan by forces allegedly belonging to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The attack happened despite the fact that there is supposed to be a ceasefire and both the government and the MILF have agreed to pursue peace talks. It didn’t help that a second carnage happened in Zamboanga a few days after, killing another 7 soldiers and bringing the total number of murder victims to 26 in just three days. The number of casualties would eventually climb to 35.

As can be expected in an emotionally charged environment, there were those who advocated an all-out-war response. Some senators have even joined the chorus for retribution, demanding that the President “do an Erap” (former President Joseph Estrada waged an all-out war against the MILF when he was President although most people are of the opinion that was a diversionary tactic). Senator Panfilo Lacson, an ally of the President, intoned: “Peace in Mindanao cannot be achieved unless a tactical victory is attained first by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.” The senator waxed eloquent, saying “It is time to untie the hands of our soldiers to fight the MILF on equal terms and not be handicapped by the so-called peace talks characterized by treachery and deceit.”

The President initially stuck to his guns insisting that “no one benefits from war.” Understandably, this stance was not popular among the ranks of the military men who have been itching to retaliate and avenge the death of 35 of their comrades. I talked to a relative who is in the military and he told me that many among his comrades saw the President’s decision as a sign of weakness and indicative of the disconnect that exists between MalacaƱang and the military hierarchy. There was also propaganda being spread among the ranks that the President was “sleeping with the enemy” as evidenced by his clandestine meeting with MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo last August. The President has since then authorized a military attack, although there has been efforts to downplay perceptions that the attack is retaliatory or directed at the MILF.

But what is probably more palpable among the ranks of the military and the bureaucracy is a sense of outrage over what many think as underserved second-class treatment from this new administration.

I was in a meeting with some career bureaucrats—all of them tenured CESO certified—recently and the conversation naturally drifted to a litany of gripes against the Aquino administration. Apparently, loyalty checks are now the order of the day in many departments and those perceived to have had ties with the former administration are now being eased out and not even politely. An example that was made was of this undersecretary at the Depatment of Transportation and Communication who has been unceremoniously told, in no uncertain terms, that she should consider her career in the public service over. Secretary Manuel Roxas II has reportedly asked for her resignation rather than having her placed in the CESO pool. No reason has been given except that she was identified with the former administration.

Listening to a litany of complaints against this administration has actually become the norm every time I meet up with career bureaucrats. The government prosecutors at the Department of Justice continue to be heavily demoralized because their secretary seems more interested in granting media interviews and speaking at various events rather than in actually managing the programs of the department. In fact, there is apprehension that the ongoing trial against the Ampatuans in relation to the Maguindanao massacre has been severely compromised by the ongoing search for witnesses that could pin down former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for electoral fraud. There are more stories of woe from the bureaucracy.

So yes, there is growing disenchantment among the ranks. But is there enough to bring the whole thing to a boil? I don’t think so. Not at the moment. But if this administration continues to treat bureaucrats with disdain and considers everyone as possibly corrupt, then we’re definitely in for rougher times ahead.

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