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An Army of the people

HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - January 25, 2021 - 12:00am

Our Armed Forces does not make it to the front pages of our newspapers unless it is confronted by violence. In the last few weeks, however, it was in the news with the congressional testimonies of officials like General Hermogenes Esperon, who narrated the terrorist activities of the New People’s Army (NPA) as supported by its many Communist fronts. Then last week, the Secretary of National Defense, Delfin Lorenzana, unilaterally abrogated the department’s agreement with the University of the Philippines, to the dismay of the champions of Academic Freedom. I think that agreement, in the first place, was superfluous; even without it, the University of the Philippines will continue to be the fountain of freedom – the Constitution assures it.

But Secretary Lorenzana raised an important observation. University of the Philippines students recruited by the NPA were among those killed in encounters with the Army. The same issue was raised by General Esperon. This needs thinking not just by the University of the Philippines but by all Filipinos. Has the Army become the enemy not only of freedom but of the people? This is what the communists want. Make no mistake about it – their objective as a revolutionary movement is power, the seizure – total, absolute. Truth, civics, middle class morality – nothing stands in its way. And the ultimate defender of this nation, the only institution that holds it together, is the Army.

Let us now look closely at it because it is republican and truly ours.

Our Army was shaped in the womb of revolution, by the ilustrados, the revolutionary clergy and the peasantry. The Filipino revolutionary tradition was motivated by the nationalistic desire for freedom. It was also deeply rooted in a profound social ethos; many of its leaders did not belong to the principalia; Bonifacio most of all, and the Ilokanos – Aglipay, Antonio Luna, Isabelo de los Reyes were not landlords. This socialist core, perhaps not articulated as it is today, is voiced earlier by Rizal, influenced as he was by the anarchism then prevalent in Europe. And finally, there is Mabini, with his mind focused on virtue.

Remember, we were the first Asian nation to mount a revolution against Western imperialism and the first to proclaim a republic. The University of Santo Tomas is Asia’s oldest Western university, and the ilustrados, schooled in the European tradition, were more learned than most of the Americans who colonized us.

Our peasantry has always fought oppression. During the Spanish regime many rebellions, some of them religious in origin, erupted in different islands. In more recent times, the Colorum and Sakdal uprisings in the 1930s were motivated by nationalist sentiment. Much earlier, in the Revolution of 1896 that became the Philippine-American War in 1898, our Armed Forces were finally organized in the manner of Western armies with a major exception that has evolved into what it is today – an Army of the people. It is not led by royalty or by the nation’s ruling class as in Europe or in Latin America.

Today, as in the Revolution of 1896, most of its officers and soldiers – particularly the soldiers – come from the peasantry. In the war with America, except for the officers who had boots, almost all the foot soldiers were barefoot because they were farmers. It is the same today. Most of the enlisted men in our Armed Forces come from the peasantry and the lower classes. It is the same with most of the officers; they are from the poor but are bright enough to pass the rigid exams which enable them to join the Philippine Military Academy. This is the major distinction of our Armed Forces as compared with those in Europe and Latin America. Their officers came from royalty, from the elite families. My only criticism of the officer corps is this: when some have gotten their stars, they act like upper class snobs; they have forgotten their origins. It is correct for retired Army officers to join government rather than joining private business groups. Incidentally, writing on this subject, General (retired) Ramon Farolan compares the careers of General Antonio Luna from the 1896 Revolution with that of Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap of the Vietnamese War. As I have written before, it is the soldiers of peasant origin who are the staunchest nationalists, truly rooted in the land. It is nationalism which has been the matrix of nationhood all through the ages. As I told my American audiences when I was lecturing in the United States under the auspices of United States Council in Foreign Relations, they were not fighting communism in Vietnam but Asian nationalism.

So then, nationalism may have lost a lot of its value when it developed into military expansionism or when it became the motivation for fascist states. Whatever form it takes, it continues to ignite the spirit of renewal, the reach for greatness as is the case with the United States, and freedom from the ignominy of the past as in the case with China. With us, it should mean knowing more about our heroic past, how we freed ourselves from colonial bondage and how we must now free ourselves from domestic colonialism and, most importantly, from barnacled habits of mind that blinded us to our enslavement.

Sure, there is corruption in the military just as there is corruption in almost all branches of government. Sure, politicians and politics are enmeshed in the military, but both are minimized by the very structure of the military itself.

The continuing communist seduction of the young lies in its utopian appeal, particularly in countries blighted by poverty and injustice. Communist governance methods are glossed over. Moreover, its victims become comfortable with their chains.

Who then is the Filipinos’ real enemy? Study our history and recognize how we were colonized first by foreign imperialists and now by their domestic heirs. Wealth is power. So look at our country’s wealthiest – the oligarchy. We now have the tools and the intelligence to define this objective reality, to trace the sources of the oligarchy’s power and longevity and understand the difficulty and inevitable necessity of destroying it altogether.

Today’s Filipino revolutionary should understand that this country cannot be sundered any more, and that he has in his hands a revolutionary weapon every time there is an election – the ballot.

How wonderful if all that youthful idealism and that revolutionary zeal were expanded on creating a good government and for the oligarchy to bring back the money they salted abroad to build productive enterprises instead of shopping malls and fancy condos.

The building and harnessing of nationalism is an educational process. This should be the goal of our universities – to produce nationalists, not communists.

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