[OPINION] Justified martial law? PH military should take its history seriously
As a graduate of history courses, one of my advocacies is to support the preservation of military history in the Philippines. I served as curator of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Museum and have been active in assisting military history-themed museums in places like Balanga City and Surigao City.
Why do we need to preserve military history? The answer of course ranges from heritage and tradition to it being a source of heroic inspiration. However, there is an even more practical reason: preserving military history fulfills a requirement in the military institution – that is, to record lessons learned in combat so they can be applied to doctrine formulation and training to enhance the fighting efficiency of the Philippine military.
After all, the core competency of the Philippine military is in defeating the enemy in the field of battle and not in hanging streamers of administration senatorial wannabes at military camps. As the saying goes, "Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan." Hence, if the Philippine military wishes to win battles, it has to study the lessons generated from previous battles and experiences and take them to heart and develop more effective strategies, tactics, and doctrines.
The problem, however, is that, for the longest time, the Philippine military has been notoriously deficient in its appreciation of history. The preservation of after-action reports has been spottily done in the AFP, and it is very difficult to find documents on the Huk Rebellion, the Mindanao campaigns, and other counter-insurgency operations from the 1940s up to the 1990s. There is a tendency to burn or destroy documents not because of any security concern but primarily because of housekeeping duties.
As a curator of the AFP Museum I had the unfortunate experience of seeing the museum plunged into darkness for more than half a year as the AFP leadership quibbled over replacing the electric transformer that had burnt out. At the same time, the military would have the money to spend on military parades, testimonial dinners, and other activities. But to source funds for the restoration of electricity? That was something not considered a priority.
That resulted in the displays in the museum – such as Emilio Aguinaldo’s uniform – becoming host to mildew and molds. A sympathetic reporter of a major daily noticed the dismal state of the AFP Museum and wrote an article on it. That immediately led to the restoration of electricity.
In another incident, hundreds of vintage American and Japanese rifles, among other old and even exotic firearms that lay in storage at AFP warehouses, were summarily destroyed with no thought of seeing these demilitarized and given as inoperable mementos and displays. Hence, from historical records to even artifacts, a scorched-earth policy within the military has led to the loss of items of great historical value.
Fortunately, not all has been destroyed or disposed of. Fortunately, many other historians, officers and men of the military, have made attempts in the past several decades to reverse that tendency within the AFP to disregard its history.
This brings us to the reason for this article.
Security situation in 1972
On the anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law last September 21, General Carlito Galvez Jr stated something quite peculiar in a television interview:
“When I was still a cadet, the Martial Law was lifted. Military is becoming a negative dark side, but I believe we have to learn the context of what happened then. The context of declaring Martial Law is because that time we had the Moro revolt in 1972, and increasing NPA uprising…and I believe the security situation is untenable.”
This was echoed by his companion, Brigadier General Antonio Parlade Jr, who followed up with:
“The Armed Forces, every time Martial Law is being celebrated, it hurts the AFP. The whole context is not being understood by the people. Nobody's talking about the creation of MNLF, reactivation of NPA in 1969.”
To be fair to these two officers, as they are not historians, they can possibly be excused for their quaint recollection of events. That being said, these two statements are the product of the military institution’s previous cavalier attitude to history and its preservation.
Let’s discuss the security situation in 1972, externally and internally.
In 1972, the Philippines was not faced with any form of external invasion by a major power. In fact, the Philippines was a Southeast Asian power, thanks to the military protection and assistance provided by the United States military, which possessed a considerable number of installations in the country, Subic and Clark being the largest. China then was a laughable country deep in the throes of the Cultural Revolution whose navy posed no threat to the Philippines. For the US, the Philippines was a reliable bulwark against communist expansion and was a major staging area for American operations in the Vietnam War.
Internally, the country had its fair share of troubles. It is true, there was a new communist party, the Communist Party of the Philippines that was organized in 1968, to be followed by the New People’s Army in 1969. However, by 1972, this Maoist armed group numbered a few hundreds and was almost annihilated by the military due to sheer stupidity and dogmatism when they tried to replicate Mao’s Yenan strategy in Northern Luzon.
The CPP-NPA was never a serious threat and could never hope to capture state power in 1972 when, in fact, the Maoist leadership recognized that it would take a protracted revolutionary war to bring that about – which would take decades. Even by 1986 – and thanks to the abuses of the Marcos regime that was considered by the Maoist leadership as their “greatest recruiter” – despite its ranks growing to tens of thousands, with a force of 25,000 guerrillas, the CPP-NPA was still in no position to immediately capture power. They were quickly swept aside and marginalized by the 1986 EDSA Revolt.
Of course, there was the Moro National Liberation Front and the Muslim rebellion. It was a rebellion partly brought about by Ferdinand Marcos’ half-baked attempt to coerce Malaysia to give up Sabah – and one of the harebrained ideas to bring that about was to train Filipino Muslim recruits to operate in Northern Borneo. That led to the Jabidah Massacre in 1968, which was used by Muslims in Mindanao as a battlecry for their cause.
With the British siding firmly with Malaysia by deploying powerful military forces there, the US averse to supporting the Sabah claim of the Philippines, Marcos not only shelved any plans on Sabah, he was now faced with a restive and indignant Muslim population and the Philippines was regarded suspiciously by many Muslim states abroad.
However, the Muslim rebellion, once it broke out, was confined to the island of Mindanao and only peaked in 1973 to 1975. Hence, it had no considerable effect on peace and order in Luzon and the Visayas, except to give the CPP-NPA a respite from government attention. In fact, the declaration of Martial Law actually exacerbated already strained conditions in Mindanao, as heavy-handed government operations triggered more widespread outbreaks of violence.
With the CPP-NPA fighting for its life in Northern Luzon and with the initial outbreaks of Muslim rebellion confined to the island of Mindanao, one wonders what was allegedly untenable in all of that in the year 1972 to justify nationwide martial law. In comparison, 20 years earlier, when Manila was faced with the possibility of attack and the fear of being overrun by powerful Huk rebel units operating in the mountains of the Sierra Madre and Central Luzon, President Elpidio Quirino did not declare nationwide martial law and ultimately the Huk Rebellion was still decisively defeated.
So why was Martial Law declared in 1972? It was declared because Marcos wanted to be a dictator, and he took advantage of any security problem affecting the country to justify that. It was a plain and simple power grab so that he and his cronies and henchmen, with US acquiescence, could lord it over a hapless country.
So, to end this, if the remembrance of the 1972 Declaration of Martial Law hurts the Philippine military, then they should accept it and not hide behind excuses. They have to remember that the institution for 14 years had been used by Marcos the dictator to brutally control the country, and this had caused untold suffering to so many.
Discomfort and hurt brings remembrance, and that prevents recurrence. However for the AFP to sweep under the rug all of that discomfort over Martial Law would definitely cause a repetition of abuses, suffering, and deaths to civilians and soldiers alike.
It is high time for the Philippine military to take its history honestly and seriously. – Rappler.com
Jose Antonio Custodio is a security and defense consultant. He specializes in military history and has post-graduate studies in history from the University of the Philippines. He occasionally teaches history and political science in several universities in Metro Manila.