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The Philippine Military’s History: Forming the Institution’s Ethos

• In 1901, the US colonial government formed the Philippine Constabulary, the backbone of the future Philippine Army. • Aside from the Philippine Constabulary, the US colonial government at different times during the Americans’ occupation of the country formed troops called Philippine Scouts under the Philippine Department of the US Army. The forces that would form the future army would largely come from the Philippine Scouts (PS). The first of such units was created in 1899 to reinforce US troops in the US-Philippine War. In 1919 until 1920, the Philippine Scouts were regrouped into the 43rd, 45th and 57th Infantry Regiments; 24th and 25th Artillery Regiment; and the 26th Cavalry Regiment. The PS units would again be used during World War II against Japanese invaders. In the 1930s, the PS saw action in Jolo, Sulu together with American forces. • It was only in 1935 when Commonwealth Act No. 1 or the National Defense Act of 1935 paved the way for the establishment of the regular Philippine Army. The Act provided for the creation, by 1946, of an army force with 10,000 soldiers, an offshore Philippine Patrol and a Philippine Army Air Corps. These forces, comprising what would be an independent Philippine Army, would receive an annual appropriation of P16 million. • From combating foreign invasion during the war, the newly established Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) would find itself fighting fellow Filipinos beginning 1946. The political elite running the government would direct the AFP to counter the ideological and armed challenge from the Hukbo para sa Pagpapalaya ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap - Army Fighting for People’s Freedom against the Japanese), which became a local rebel group with a peasant membership. • In post-1946 era, the AFP’s direction would be towards fighting anti-government elements, particularly domestic insurgencies--the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA) beginning in the 1960’s and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the 1970’s and later, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the 1990’s. According to Dr. Renato Cruz de Castro in his 2005 study “The Dilemma Between Democratic Control and Military Reforms: The Case of the AFP Modernization Program, 1991-204," the civilian government, ruled by a political elite, relied on the security relations with the US to defend the Philippines against threats from foreign or external forces. This dependence on American military equipment and on the political elite’s control deprived the AFP the opportunity to professionalize. The ruling elite in government used Congress to control the military’s budget for modernization, Dr. de Castro claimed. In the 1950’s to the 1960’s, de Castro said the military institution’s role declined as it continued to be confined to the domestic scene while its budget decreased. Until the present, the AFP has been deployed for counter-insurgency operations, redefining military’s professionalism, which traditionally meant protecting borders and maintaining territorial integrity. Like its Latin American counterparts, the Philippine military developed what experts called “new professionalism," which emerged during the Cold War and thereafter. New professionalism meant that the military is concerned with the protection of national security threatened by internal groups. It implied greater role in politics and integrated skills such as intelligence, psychological warfare and socio-economic development. • As far as its role in the international arena is concerned, the Philippine military joined only expeditionary forces, such as in the Korean War from 1950 to 1955 and the Vietnam War in the 1970s. Both wars involved the US. The Philippine military also sent a peacekeeping force to former East Timor in 2000, now Timor Leste. • From 1972 until 1986, President Ferdinand Marcos used the military to enforce his martial law rule and new society objectives. The military also began joining government bureaucracy and stood as dummy owners for business entities of the First couple, their relatives and cronies. • In the latter half of the 1980’s, several coup attempts weakened the civilian government of President Corazon Aquino. A new force was harnessed for counter-insurgency campaigns in the form of para-military groups, which were attributed to the US-initiated low-intensity conflict tactics. • In 1991, the non-ratification of the bases agreement with the US meant that the Philippine military now had to rely on its own to modernize its equipment and facilities. The following year, the military establishment drew up a 10-year modernization plan, which stayed in Congress in the next three years. Meanwhile, increased Chinese military presence in the Kalayaan islands in the South China Sea, where the Philippines is one of the claimants, underscored the need to modernize the military facilities and international combat skills. • In February 1995, Congress passed Republic Act 7898, the law providing for a separate budget that would be used for a 15-year AFP modernization program. The main source for the budget would be the funds from the sale of converted bases lands and other military facilities, such as Fort Bonifacio. However, the proceeds from these were not immediately turned over to the AFP’s modernization budget. In 2002, seven years after the AFP modernization law was passed, no funds have been allocated for the program. President Arroyo asked Congress to allocate additional funds to it but the Philippine Senate reduced the proposed budget from P10 billion (an estimated US$200 million using the 2002 exchange rate) to P 4 million (an estimated US$80 million), as they were convinced about existing corrupt practices in arms acquisitions and the AFP’s unimpressive record in military hardware purchases. • In 1997, plans were made to transfer the counter-insurgency functions of the AFP to the Philippine National Police, but the noted increase in the number of communist-led insurgents and the heightened Muslim separatist war forced government to rely again on the military. • In reaction to alleged Chinese fortifications on Kalayaan island, President Joseph Estrada released initial funds amounting to P3 billion for the implementation of the AFP’s modernization program. The political crisis Estrada faced, and his eventual ouster, once again derailed the program. • In July 2003, a group of young soldiers launched, albeit unsuccessfully, a mutiny in the high-end residential establishment, Oakwood in Makati. Analysts say the demands presented by the soldiers of the Magdalo group, such as corruption in the ranks of their superiors while low-ranked soldiers suffered from miserable conditions in combat, reflected government’s failure in implementing the modernization plan. Again, the issues the soldiers raised were not resolved. • In February 2006, there would be another attempt to overthrow Arroyo’s government, now in conspiracy with civilian groups. Philippine society would be divided over the role of military. Analysts say the military’s historical orientation--that of being manipulated by the political elite’s interest--exposed the men in uniform to the civilian government’s weaknesses and emboldened the thinking that it should be part of the political process to address these flaws. The military’s historical lack of independence and objective professionalism as an institution resulted in its failure to develop its own ethos. REFERENCE: De Castro, Renato Cruz Dr.: “The Dilemma Between Democratic Control versus Military Reforms: The Case of the AFP Modernisation Program, 1991-2004;"Journal of Security Sector Management, March 2005 issue; UK Wikipedia and websites