(In an Ateneo forum on the 36th anniversary of People Power, former Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista shared his thoughts about the EDSA Revolution from a then young officer’s point of view.)
I was commissioned in 1981 upon graduation from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA.) In 1986, I was already a First Lieutenant teaching economics, military strategy and military history at the PMA. Later, in January of 2013, I became Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. And so, I had the privilege to keenly observe and be part of what has happened to the AFP in different points in time and from different perspective; from the tactical or micro point of view to the strategic or macro point of view, relating it to the history of the organization and later on even crafting the long-term vision for it. Let me share some of my thoughts.
What was the situation prior to 1986?
We had a president who held on to power for more than 2 decades when the constitution allowed a maximum of only two 4-year terms. He extended his term by declaring martial law and effect a dictatorial rule. In that long period, we saw the country gradually deteriorate, from one of the leading nations in East Asia to one of its laggards.
- The economy was in shambles o Democracy has been degraded o The quality of life went down o There was abuse of power and corruption
- Internal security situation deteriorated. The legitimate opposition and other avenues of legitimate dissent were destroyed. Unfortunately, the only organized dissent that remained was the Communist Party of the Philippines -New People’s Army (CPP-NPA.) And so many of our youth joined the rebels.
Also, as martial law was declared, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) separatist uprising erupted.
- While martial law was lifted in 1981, the almost 1 decade it has been in effect allowed the dictator to deliberately undermine our institutions by either demolishing, replacing, coopting, or suppressing them. Among these institutions were the constitution, Legislature, justice system, political parties, the church, civil society, media, and the military.
- But having said that, let me highlight the fact that, elements within these institutions later proved resilient and held the line, with the desire to stem the deterioration of our country. They stood up to restore our institutions to their rightful role in providing balance and to restore our democratic way of life.
The AFP was one of those institutions. From day one of his legal term in office, the dictator worked hard to gain the favor of the military. After all, it was the instrument he will use to implement martial law. He had control over promotions, designations to key positions and largesse at his disposal. By the time he declared martial law in 1972, he had firm control of the AFP.
What happened in 1986?
Well, what happened was; the pent-up emotion of our people, realizing the deteriorating condition and the desire for a better Philippines, erupted. While dissent was building up prior to that, what finally ignited it was, the coming out of a sector of our military, (many of them young officers, including cadets at the Philippine Military Academy) in support of our people. Those elements within the military, together with those from the Church, media, colleges and universities, and other sectors, gave our people the courage to effect change. It was the collective effort of these institutions together with our people that made things happen.
What was in the mind of the military back then and why did they do what they did?
There are several considerations that inform the thinking of the military.
First, the military took seriously Its historical role in Philippine society.
The Armed Forces traces its roots to the revolutionary army of Andres Bonifacio. Then and throughout history, the Armed Forces fought for the Filipino people, winning independence for the Filipino people and defending this country from various threats. And during critical times in our history, the Armed Forces has always decided on the basis of national interest. 1986 was a time for the Armed Forces to live up to its legacy and advance the interest of the Filipino people.
Second, members of the military are very protective of their institution; in terms of professionalism, identity and cohesiveness. Its esprit de corps, deeply rooted traditions and organizational discipline has ensured its resilience as an institution.
Third, its solidarity with our people. And this is very well reflected in the mandate which was later incorporated and institutionalized in the 1987 constitution. “The AFP is the protector of the people and the state. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of the national territory.” The AFP takes to heart this constitutional mandate. While the AFP commits to legal authority, the ultimate determinant of its position is: “what role the Filipino people wants the military to perform.”
Because of this historical experience, and in order to safeguard its resilience against future attempts to undermine the professionalism of the military, reforms were initiated within the organization. And, in order to ensure that professionalism is institutionalized, a long-term transformation program was later undertaken, with a vision of achieving a “World-class Armed Forces that is a source of national pride.”
What lies Ahead?
We are again at a crossroad in our history. The danger of further sliding back towards our deplorable conditions in the past is real. This is further complicated with current threats to national security. Even as we speak, our sovereignty and sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea is being threatened.
And so, as we commemorate the EDSA spirit, let me pose this challenge to our youth. As in 1986, I call on our youth to play an important role; to take the side of the Filipino people; and to secure the future of our country; after all, this is your future.
I have faith in the Filipino youth; its intelligence and sound judgement; its patriotism; its desire to make a difference. I recall one time when I was a guest speaker in a college graduation, one of the veteran professors confided to me that, “compared to the past, the students of today are more intelligent, more discerning and more inquisitive.” That gave me a sense of optimism.
While many say you are the future of this country, I have a different view. I believe you are the present. You do not have to wait for the future to make a difference. You can play a decisive role NOW!
So, my advice to our youth, discern the truth from the myths, fake news and lies. This coming election, make the right decision for the Filipino people, for our country, for yourself. Choose and support a leader who is best qualified, who can and who will:
- Restore the economy and jobs for our people
- Defend the West Philippine Sea and address other threats to national security o Govern professionally and morally o Safeguard our health o Follow our laws
Choose someone who does not lie, cheat and steal from the Filipino people.
I call on our youth to make a difference NOW!
Maraming Salamat po at mabuhay ang kabataang Pilipino!