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Jun 09th
Home Columns Reinventing the Philippines The Military Background of Philippine Presidents (Part 3)
The Military Background of Philippine Presidents (Part 3) PDF Print E-mail
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Columns - Reinventing the Philippines
Thursday, 17 May 2007 00:53

Part Three of "Reinventing the Philippine Military" Series 

Today the threat of a new coup d'etat in the Philippines may slowly but surely destabilize the Philippine economy. The Philippine peso may depreciate once again. The confidence of local and foreign investors may erode. This is the third article of a series of steps that the national leadership can do to "reinvent" the Philippine military, as an institution that respects the constitutional process. Steps can also be taken to enhance the military's role as a traditional protector of the republic of, for and by the people.

Let us first discuss a short history of the role of the Philippine military in the annals of the country. Like the United States of America, the Philippines had also a military man as President when both countries declared independence from their colonizers. Unfortunately the President of the first Philippine Republic, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, did not last long. The American Army captured him when his fledging government fought the so-called Christian version of the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902. And he immediately swore allegiance to the United States. (As pointed out by the members of the Philippine History Group of Los Angeles, California, there was a Muslim version of the Filipino-American War that lasted past 1913 and which the U.S. Army could not put an end prior to the start of World War II.)

The Filipino Version of West Point

The United States, as the colonizer of the Philippines, saw a need to introduce professionalism in the Philippine military. The Americans organized the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in Baguio City in Northern Philippines. The PMA was patterned after the United States Military Academy at West Point. And more or less, the Americans succeeded in their mission of training the Philippine military establishment to be under civilian control. Civilian supremacy, as practiced traditionally in the United States, came into being in the Philippines.

The first elected President of the Second Philippine Republic after World War II was a brigadier general in the Philippine Army. But like General Aguinaldo's stint, Gen. Manuel Roxas' presidency ended too soon. He died of a heart attack only after a few months as President.

Ramon Magsaysay became the first President with a military background after General Roxas. Mr. Magsaysay, who was a guerilla leader during World War II, became the secretary of National Defense during the administration of President Roxas' vice president and successor, Mr. Elpidio Quirino. (President Quirino fired later Secretary Magsaysay over political differences. Mr. Magsaysay ran successfully against his former boss in 1953.) President Magsaysay succeeded in defusing the communist revolt in Luzon and pacified the Muslim insurrection in Mindanao. But like President Roxas, Mr. Magsaysay died in his first term of office when his Air Force One crashed in Cebu on March 17, 1957. 


President Carlos P. Garcia (who was Mr. Magsaysay’s Vice President) and his successor, President Diosdado Macapagal, joined the guerillas during World War II, although both did not pursue a military career when peace came in 1945.

Ferdinand E. Marcos was also a guerilla leader during World War II. He became the President in 1965 after a successful stint in the Philippine Congress as a representative of Ilocos Norte, as a senator and as president of the Philippine Senate. While he was not a military man per se, Mr. Marcos managed to "remake" the Philippine military, which supported him when he declared martial law in September 1972. Mr. Marcos became eventually a dictator supported by the military for nearly 14 years. A people's revolt called the EDSA I toppled Mr. Marcos in February 1986. The EDSA I was actually a military-led coup that, due to the pressure exerted by the United States and other countries, resulted in the installation of a civilian president, Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino.

President Aquino managed to survive several coup-d'etat attempts principally because a majority of the Philippine military leaders chose to support her. It was public knowledge that the military-industrial complex of the United States wanted civilian rule in the Philippines to continue, as America and the industrialized world shunned military juntas.

President Ramos, the West Pointer

After Presidents Aguinaldo and Roxas, the next military man to become President of the Philippines was Fidel V. Ramos. He is a cousin of President Marcos and served as the vice chief of staff of the Philippine military in his dictatorship. Mr. Ramos, a member of West Point's Class of 1950, became also the secretary of National Defense of President Aquino, whom he supported during the EDSA I revolt. He was elected the President in 1992.

With due respect to Mr. Ramos, his tenure is now being rated by historians as another so-so presidency. The Philippines managed under President Ramos initially to have some economic successes on account of the financial triumphs of the then Bill Clinton presidency in the United States. The economic coattails of the United States managed to bring prosperity also to many developing and developed countries. But after the so-called Asian financial crisis came in 1997, the Philippines was stuck still in neutral gear even when her Southeast-Asian neighbors were on the road to recovery. Coupled with the accusations of huge graft-and-corruption scandals leveled against the Ramos Administration during its last two years, the legacy of Mr. Ramos has been irreparably tainted.

Some sectors in the Philippine society have batted for a "military solution" of the country's search for competent, clean and courageous leadership. The three Cs, as described by Philippine Sen. Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr., have been apparently absent in many of the previous Administrations (and in the present Dispensation). 

(Click Here to read Part 4)

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 November 2007 21:51

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