Redefining Civil Society Participation in the Philippine Defense System
One of the distinct features of our armed forces is that our officer corps and the soldiery come from all segments of society, unlike in some countries where they are drawn from one social group. We can thus regard our armed forces as the “armed forces of the people,” a term enshrined in the 1935 Constitution.
By tradition and by the law, our military is subject to the will of our people through the highest civilian magistrate, the Chief Executive/ President. He is designated by the same Constitution as the “Commander-in-Chief of all the Armed Forces.” The primacy of civilian leadership was, however, explicitly stated only in the 1973 Constitution through Article 11 Section 8 thereof, which states that “civilian authority is at all times supreme over the military.”
This political realization is an outcome of our revolutionary uprisings in 1896. Our people did not confront the Spaniards, and later the Americans, as a rebellious group, nor did they fight as guerrilla forces. Rather, they confronted the enemy as an organized army.
This orientation was however changed by the American government. So much so that when war clouds were hovering over Southeast Asia, General Douglas MacArthur conceptualized a defense system wherein he envisioned the Philippine Army as purely a “holding force” against the enemy pending the arrival of reinforcement from the United States. The Philippine Army was conceived merely as an adjunct of the United States armed forces.
Today, there are still some defense leaders and planners who stubbornly cling to this and subsequent orthodox military concepts and dogmas which do not correspond to the fast changing realities, domestically and internationally. Overlooked, for instance, is the new character and dimension of warfare. The role of a politically conscious population in defense.
Overlooked also is the specter of the post-nuclear unconventional type of war which is still whispered in select circles as “psychic warfare.” (The round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks or SALT grounded to a complete stop in Vienna in the ’70s after the USSR informed the US that they already have a – weaponry system more frightening and more devastating than thermonuclear warfare. The US delegation without blinking an eye replied cryptically, “we too.” Unknown to the USSR, the US has been experimenting on the wartime usage of psychic phenomena at Stanford University for more than a decade already then.)
Overlooked furthermore in defense planning was the fact that the outcome of any conflict is ultimately decided not by a sophisticated weapon system nor modern computers but by MAN. Against this backdrop, our greatest liability today remains our fear to explore new frontiers of knowledge in planning, and in our lack of human and physical resources to carry out even ongoing activities.
Based on the foregoing premises, what then should our present concept of defense and stability be? To begin with, we must now discard all concepts applicable to economically advanced and highly industrialized countries. We must consider and accept the reality of geography and the moral values of our society and people. To be realistic, our defense system, puny as it is, should be based on available indigenous resources and premised on a holistic philosophy of warfare relevant to Philippine conditions and circumstances, today and in the foreseeable future.
Our “Civilian Army” Concept
Our notion of a “civilian army” is derived from our 1935 Constitution and operationalized by Commonwealth Act No. I, otherwise known as the National Defense Act. This legislative issuance envisages a small regular force composed of able-bodied and arm-capable bearing male citizens over 18 years old. Thus, we have the trainee program for those who reached 20 years but not in school, and the ROTC program for college/university students, as the reservoir of our projected manpower reserve forces.
The occupation years under the Japanese provided the laboratory for testing the validity and efficacy of our pre- war concept of a citizen army. The reservists proved their relevance and their capability, so much so that the program was reinstituted soon after the war.
The period immediately following liberation gave rise to new realities with bearings encroaching on the role of disbanded guerrillas who brought home their firearms. Some regrouped allegedly due to the government’s failure to address their needs and aspirations. This situation gave rise to a new dimension of armed conflict – the twin problem of area development and stability.
To the credit of our Filipino leaders and military planners, the term they coined in the early ’50s – CIVIC ACTION – became a universal and generic military term, which categorized under it all non-violent and non- combat operations. It covers, inter alia, such development activities that support area stability as building roads, bridges, schoolbuildings, market, community centers, footpath and bridges, diggings, irrigation ditches/canals and artesian wells, river and flood control, opening and administering resettlements for the landless, and the like.
The Civil Action Program (CAP) was a self-help program which involved civilians on a voluntary basis in projects that would enhance their welfare and well-being. Interestingly, even the United States appreciated the new approach. Observers from the United States, United Kingdom, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nationalist China, South Korea, Pakistan and several other countries came to study our “unorthodox” methods. In their annual summit meeting held in Quarry Heights, Panama in the early ’50s, top US civilian and military leaders institutionalized the term “civic action” and made it one of ten classes of programs under the Military Assistance Program (MAP). The program was subsequently brought to Burma, Jordan, Ethiopia, Turkey, Venezuela, Guatemala, Ecuador Chile and elsewhere.
Of particular interest to Filipinos perhaps is the fact that in the ’70s our more enlightened business leaders founded the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) patterned after the Venezuelan CAP, the “Dividendazo de Venezuela.” Which was in turn derived from one Civil Action Program. Not to be overlooked also is the role of the church in civic action. In 1978, the church group organized its own version and called it “social action.”
The Role of UP Students and ROTC Cadets
The thaw of the Cold War in the ’80s accelerated the decline of traditional and conventional military thought and the rise of people-centered environment not only here in our country but throughout the world. The world has become super conscious regarding the earth’s environment and the survival of mankind. Adventurism in the battlefield has given way to the rise of a civic society mindful of the threats to our very own existence.
The Philippines is not far behind this international movement but it is hampered in its efforts by subsisting orthodoxies. In the area of reserve force development and administration, for instance, the AFP program is basically vintage ’80s.
The 1975 Home Defense Program (Revised) enlarged the Civic Action Program of 1951 by defining and providing five program concerns. This was updated in 1978 by the Home Defense Program (Strategic), and subsequently fine-tuned by the Civil-Military Operations (CMO) and later the Expanded ROTC Program.
Changing international and regional relationships did not make the ROTC concept obsolete. The Philippine experience in recurring natural calamities-e.g. fires, floods, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and their accompanying emergencies- provided the idea to our national and military planners that the ROTC system could also play other significant and meaningful roles aside from pure military training. The National Service Law was thus enacted. The Law resulted in the Expanded ROTC Program which provided that a college student is required to undergo basic military training during the first year to learn discipline and leadership. By the second year, he has the option to enroll in either of its three service components, i.e. military training service, civic welfare service, and law enforcement service.
But college graduates, not limited to ROTC graduates, can still be part of the generic “civilian army.” The concept has kept pace with the rapidly changing times. It has become holistic encompassing practically every aspect of life. The growth of a politically conscious populace accelerated the need to come together and work as one to meet the multi- faceted challenges of the future.
Students and professionals can serve as members of that amorphous civilian army in various capacities simultaneously with their calling. The field of service is limited only by their imagination and capacity to serve.
Summing up, let us refocus our thoughts. The threat of violent warfare everywhere in general, continues to recede to the background. What preoccupies the concerned sector of our global society today is the survival of the human race. It is in this context that everyone is challenged to take up the cudgel and be counted as an active member of the growing worldwide citizen army of development moralists and implementors.