COMMENTARY: Some lessons learned from military interventions. By Milo D. Maestrecampo

Three things could happen with these alliances: 1. The military faction could preserve its interest by handling the other forces in a way as to exact from these the required resources, and drop them when the objective has been secured; 2. The other forces could handle the military faction in a way that the latter secure their objective, upon which time they drop the soldiers; and 3. A compromise to reconcile interests and share the spoils of victory—if and when achieved—is hammered out.

Let us examine briefly the lessons to be learned from the experience of the RAM in undertaking the 1986 military intervention exercise, perceived by many to have been a success because it had culminated in the ouster of Marcos.  But a closer look would show that the turn of events thwarted the achievement of the RAM's initial goal and deflected the RAM from the execution of its plan.  In order to achieve its objective, the RAM found that it had to make and accept compromises with an overwhelming number of societal forces: the Church, civil society, the Cory supporters, the militant elements, and the Filipino masses that flooded EDSA on 22-25 February 1986.

While the People Power Revolution was initiated by the military faction of Ramos and Enrile, with Gregorio Honasan as the combat commander, the revolutionists found themselves marginalized when the smoke cleared. Worse, Aquino's agenda for dividing the spoils of the victory prioritized benefits for the Philippine Left, the military's sworn enemy.  Ironically, in committing the sacrifice to rectify injustice and serve the people, the efforts of RAM ultimately earned for the soldiers a distinct lack of appreciation from those who benefited the most.  Worse, it made possible the realignment of Leftist elements into positions where they could inflict major damage to the AFP.

The RAM leadership realized that the gains from the People Power Revolution were a far cry from what they initially set out to do.  This was one of the compelling reasons why coup attempts were made during the Aquino presidency.

What exactly did the 1986 military intervention achieve, if anything?  It changed the leadership, but it did little to change the living conditions of the vast majority of the Filipino people.  In this sense, there was no genuine revolution.

In comparison, the 2003 military intervention by the Magdalo group was intended to correct conditions of systemic graft and corruptio and address the issue of AFP reform to improve the living condition of battlefront soldiers, among other imperative issues for the Arroyo government to address.  However, in mounting the Oakwood exercise, it was the bitter experience of the Magdalo to have been taken advantage of by political and other interest groups.   Then, too, with the Magdalo soldiers in detention after Oakwood, their fate was not anymore in their control and opportunists wasted no time to use the movement for their own purposes.
The RAM and the Magdalo experiences have shaken out of the woodwork all those forces that would be among the most interested in the event of a military intervention.  These parties will have to be taken into consideration as they will definitely try to influence events to serve their own distinct interests.

There is the Philippine Left that will support any campaign for military intervention as it would be beneficial to its broader ideology-based struggle.  An alliance with the military, or even with just a fraction of the AFP, would already be a tactical victory that the Left could exploit for its formidable propaganda potential.  Any form of political destabilization erodes the strength of the state machinery, a condition that benefits the Left, as it moves the nation closer to conditions ripe for General Offensive and General Uprising.

There are the politicians, especially those that are shut out from the corridors of power, who would welcome military intervention inasmuch as it has come to mean the alternative route to power.  The political scene in the Philippines is fragmented, as shown for example by the 2004 Presidential elections that had the different factions of Fernando Poe, Jr. (FPJ), GMA, Panfilo Lacson, Raul Roco, and Eddie Villanueva battling it out.  In the sidelines are the networks that could be called into play by Fidel V. Ramos, Edgardo Angara, Eduardo Cojuangco, and other emerging political stalwarts.

One feature in common among these political factions, be it in the Opposition or in the Administration, is that they all have influential crooks, corruptors, and bad elements within their ranks.  Their presence underlines the need for the military to be insulated from politics.

However, this becomes impossible during a military intervention.  It is more realistic to assume that coalition and alliances would be made.  The danger here, as was said before, is that the genuine and noble intentions of the soldiers would be compromised by their alignment with unscrupulous political animals.  And when the smoke clears even in "victory," the military interventionists would likely find themselves among those shut out from th corridors of power.

There, too, is the formidable force of the Church.  In the Philippines, the principle of separation of the Church and the State is purely superficial. However, the religious sector is acknowledged to be the decisive factor in bringing the multitude out on the streets for a convincing display of people power.  The Church has the resource to gather the civilian component and provide the moral guidance in the execution of the revolutionary action.  This kind of clout could not be lightly dismissed by anyone planning to stage a successful operation.

In addition, there are the civil society groups, the business sector, the elite, the student sector, the academe and the intelligentsia, among others.  Each among these groups could generate strength to influence events as they unfold and derail the revolutionist movement from its intended path.

Indeed, there are so many factors and considerations that may not immediately be factored in by a group of soldiers that moves to undertake military intervention.

Plan and execution

Blunders, irregularities, and commitment violation are a fact of military intervention.  These result in the break in cordial relationships between otherwise reasonable and good people.  The tactical blunders jeopardize the mission and remove any chance to attain the desired end-state.  As objectives have to be won through firefight and skirmishes, violence and bloodshed become imminent when soldiers embark on their execution of a plan that requires the seizure of Malacañang and key installations, to include Camp Aguinaldo, Camp Crame, and Villamor Airbase, seaports, business centers, airports, power and communication facilities, as well as media outfits.

The 1986 People Power Revolution prescribed the model that subsequent attempts at military intervention sought to follow. In order to oust a sitting president, two basic elements should be present: 1. the military element and 2. the civilian element where the political component will emanate.  The model for People Power Revolution has been doctrinized in such a way that tactics and strategy evolved as a formula for toppling down a president—a formula that everyone seems to want to try and achieve for his self-interested ends.

Planning and execution of this model is difficult because of the ad hoc structure of reformist membership.  Up to the moment of execution, the military planner cannot ascertain what units to utilize for what task.

AFP units are constantly rotating, a fact that makes difficult the development of cohesiveness and interoperability required for the execution of such a delicate mission.  And even before the problem of task organization becomes a matter for consideration, there has already been the difficulty posed in constituting the membership of the group, as there is the high probability of the recruitment being monitored.

On D-Day then, the military intervention group is likely to move with a meager and non-cohesive organization whose chance for success greatly depends on the sympathy and turnaround of other military units and the civilian sectors.  With so much that is not in control, so many things are bound to go wrong, and the desired end-state will drift well out of sight.

Planning a military intervention is not limited to the military aspect only.  The political and higher level aspect need to be planned as well, and this necessitates liaising with civilian elements.  In the experience of the Magdalo, some of the members toyed with the idea that the group could make use of the resources of the civilian political component because they thought that when success would have been achieved, the Magdalo would still have control over how things would proceed.  Of course, this never happened.  The civilians who provided the resources for the Magdalo to mount the Oakwood exercise used their investment to derive returns in the political arena, and this they did without feeling the need to seek the permission of the Magdalo.

The usual paradigm of a military intervention has the ingredients of 1. the situation, 2. the mission, 3. the execution, 4. service support, and 5. command and signal.  In the case of Oakwood, there was a clear situation that deserved correction.  Similarly, the Magdalo Group was ready for the mission to secure the military objectives.  However, at the point of execution, it had been the painful experience of the Magdalo that those who committed to the mission did not show up, leaving the soldiers to face all the negative consequences.  In addition, the ad hoc organization of the Magdalo made command and signal blurred and confusing.

But perhaps the most bitter lesson learned from Oakwood has to do with the utilization of service support.  In the AFP, there is a valid gripe with how the top level is not able to bring the resources to the field and the line units that need it.  In the Magdalo experience, the very same gripe it fought against featured in its operations.  Those at the higher level of the movement got more of the resources and the comforts that went with these.  

The civilians and military elements that composed the decision-makers conducted their meetings in high class hotels.  Those in the field and line units had to be content with caldero and sardines as provisions for the execution phase.  How can that be revolutionary?  That was hypocrisy!

Uncontrollable battlefield

Once actions for military intervention are initiated, the tide carries the revolutionaries to uncharted waters of political maneuverings for which they are ill-prepared to control.  The trade-offs erode the purity of noble intentions.  And the soldiers, despite the full intention to be patriotic, ironically find themselves committed to actions that endanger the nation and its people.

To the soldier, the objective of the military intervention, while national in scope, is at first glance simple enough to realize.  It is after all just another kind of battle.  Soldiers begin toying with the idea of a military intervention bearing in mind the kind of battlefield for which the military has trained for.  But in the soldiers' paradigm of battle, the enemy is identified and the path toward the desired end-state is perfectly clear.  During the engagement of opposing forces, doctrines of war through tactics and strategy are applicable.  And when the smoke clears, the result could be ascertained with the decisive route of the enemy.

However, for military interventionists, it is not as easy as it looks.  The action will bring the soldier to an uncontrollable battlefield where his paradigm of battle would be rendered inadequate to allow him t comprehend, much less take control.  For one, the players are not limited to two opposing forces. Rather, there will be a multitude of players, each fighting to secure what is to his interest.  The entry of these identified and unidentified players make the arena more complicated and infinitely more difficult to understand.  This was the situation that the Magdalo group found itself in almost immediately after it made its move and even during the detention of its members.

There was the media battlefront where the Magdalo had to fight it out to win the battle of public impression.  There was the legal battlefront where the odds of winning are heavily in favor of those who can exploit the technicalities; something that the soldier has not been trained to do.  There is the political battlefront where the soldier had to defend the platform on which his claim for posterity was premised.  There was the moral battlefront in the ultimate struggle for the moral high ground in order to win the hearts of the populace.

All these battlefronts had to be fought simultaneously and the players that assembled for the skirmishes were just mind-boggling in number.  These included the forces of the Philippine Left, the political opposition, administration, civil society, business community, media networks, religious groups, the Social Democrats, parliamentary strugglers, the Muslim community, the secessionists, and the terrorists, to name a few.  Then there was the reaction from the international community, especially the United States that is ever so wary to protect its investments in the country.

Any move for military intervention puts the soldiers in a situation where they are at the mercy of the events as they unfold.  The revolutionists open themselves up to be taken advantage by opportunists. (30)