Civil-Military Relations

Philippines Table of Contents

The Philippines had an unbroken tradition of civilian control of the military until martial law was imposed in 1972. Under Article 2 of the 1987 Constitution, civilian authority is again, "at all times, supreme over the military." Many military leaders found this difficult to accept. Under Marcos, they could count on authorization to take a hard line against communists and Muslim separatists, on opportunities to run civilian businesses and industries, and on being consulted on most matters.

Under Aquino, the officers could feel a chill coming from Malacaņang. Aquino retired all "overstaying generals," signed cease-fires with the communists and the Moro National Liberation Front, harbored "leftist" advisers in her presidential office, released political prisoners (including New People's Army founder Jose M. Sison), and only grudgingly improved military pay. Aquino also established a Commission on Human Rights to investigate and publicize instances of military abuse and only later broadened the commission's mandate to include atrocities committed by the New People's Army.

Military Factions

In 1983, the year of crisis resulting from the Benigno Aquino assassination, members of the Philippine Military Academy class of 1971 formed the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM). Notable among its leaders was the chief of Enrile's security detail, Colonel Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan. RAM first demonstrated against corruption in the armed forces in 1985, while Marcos was president. Most RAM officers, including Honasan, have not supported a political idealogy. They viewed themselves as protectors of the people against corrupt, incompetent civilians. Others espoused an agenda with a populist, or even leftist tone. By 1990 RAM was said to no longer stand for Reform the Armed Forces Movement but rather for Rebolusyonariong Alyansang Makabayan, or Revolutionary Nationalist Alliance.

The military in 1991 contained many factions based on loyalties to military and civilian patrons, military academy class ties, linguistic differences, and generational differences. One faction consisted of those still loyal to Marcos; others consisted of those loyal to Enrile or to Ramos. Discord existed between Tagalogs and Ilocanos. Graduates of the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio were at odds with reserve and noncommissioned officers. Within the Philippine Military Academy faction, loyalties ran according to year of graduation. Another faction, the Young Officers' Union (YOU), was made up of a younger group of officers, distinct from RAM. YOU leaders were well educated; some were intelligence officers who had penetrated the communist underground and might have gained some respect for communist organizing principles, revolutionary puritanism, and dedication to ideology. They studied the writings of the late Filipino nationalist Claro M. Recto, espoused a doctrine they called Philippine nationalism, and were reported to believe that a social revolution could be sparked by a military uprising. By 1991 politicized military officers began to focus less on Aquino than on her possible successors. Whatever political leaders it supported, the Philippine military in the 1990s was expected by some observers to remain fractured, factionalized, and frustrated, and civilian control was by no means guaranteed.


Starting in 1987 a new, unsettling element clouded civilmilitary relations: vigilante groups that hunted down suspected communists and other leftists. The first and most famous such group was Alsa Masa (Masses Arise), which virtually eliminated communist influence from the Agdao slum area of Davao City. The potential for civilians to accomplish what the military could not aroused official interest. Soon there were more than 200 such groups across the country, with names that hinted at their violent, cult-like nature: Remnants of God; Guerrero of Jesus; Sin, Salvation, Life, and Property; Rock Christ; and, the frightening Tadtad (Chop-Chop), which liked to pose its members for photographs with the severed heads of their victims. Vigilantes often carried magical amulets to ward off bullets, and their rituals were sometimes performed to loud rock music.

Domestic human rights groups, such as Task Force Detainees, and international monitors, such as Amnesty International, publicized incidents of torture. Amnesty International asserted that torture of communist rebels and sympathizers had become a common practice. One paramilitary group in 1988 responded to such criticism by shooting the Filipino regional chairman of Amnesty International. Six human rights lawyers were killed in the first three years of the Aquino government. More than 200 critics of the government were victims of extrajudicial executions. Many vigilantes carried pistols; others were skilled with long, heavy knives called bolos.

Despite many documented abuses, United States and Philippine government officials have spoken in support of some vigilante groups. Aquino cited Alsa Masa's success in Davao as a legitimate exercise of People's Power. Her secretary of local government, Jaime Ferrer, ordered all local officials to set up civilian volunteer organizations or face dismissal. Ferrer was gunned down on August 2, 1987, for this and other anticommunist activities. The government made a distinction between ad hoc vigilante groups and the civilian volunteer organizations. The latter, which included Nation Watch (Bantay Bayan), were to conform to the following guidelines set forth on October 30, 1987, by the Department of National Defense: membership in the organizations was to be voluntary, members would be screened by the police, the organizations were to be defensive, and they were to eschew identification with individual landowners or politicians. Ramos fully supported the civilian volunteer organizations. He described their relationship to the uniformed military as "synergistic" and in 1989 grouped all 20,000 civilian volunteer organizations together under an umbrella organization called the National Alliance for Democracy. In reality, the lines between official and unofficial vigilante groups are often blurred. Large businesses have donated money to the National Alliance for Democracy and used its members as strikebreakers to counter leftist unions.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress