How to legitimize a military takeover

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 Jan) ­– If we average out the annual man-hours spent in battle by the 140,000-strong Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) troops, we might find that a soldier can expect to be engaged in combat, his traditional role, no more than a total of five in 365 days. Take off the allowable thirty days of annual leave and a combined thirty weeks for attendance in in-service trainings, camp improvement, administrative tasks, and ceremonial functions and it still leaves him with a lot of time to play golf while minding the store.

Unit commanders have long mulled over how to keep their troops busy and out of trouble. Soldiers building roads and painting classrooms, planting trees and doing coastal clean up, going on medical outreach and other mercy missions, teaching children the ABC’s and bringing them around on educational tours are not an unfamiliar sight anywhere in this country.

The idea to recognize such tasks to be part of the official duties of the soldier has long been floating around. I, for one, argue for it every chance I get. So I found it laudable last year when the Army Headquarters tasked its G8 (Office of Education and Training) to focus the 6th Senior NCOs Leadership Seminar (SNCOLS) at drawing a description of these non-combat tasks. Ostensibly, this was in preparation for rewriting the manual on duties and responsibilities of the Army soldier because the one in use was strongly influenced by the US Armed Forces manuals and did little to reflect the realities on the ground for the Filipino soldier operating in Philippine soil.

At about the same time the 6th SNCOLS workshops were being conducted in the 10 divisions all across the country, AFP thinktank were also putting together the Internal Peace and Security Plan (aka Oplan Bayanihan). The IPSP is the AFP 2011-16 roadmap that took effect on January 1.

Why this AFP operational plan co-terminus is with the sitting president is because it is designed primarily to legitimize the use of the AFP to push the national development imperatives – work that traditionally falls on civilian institutions to address. Call it a military takeover of the countryside, because that is the bottomline to the IPSP’s mouthfuls on paradigm shifts and human security thrusts and whole-of-nation framework.

Under the IPSP, our soldiers will be delivering the functions of the Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Health, and Department of Education, among others. Oh, sure, they won’t do it unless the local government units (LGUs) and the line agencies concerned sign memoranda of agreement or understanding with the ground units concerned. Indeed, many among our local executives and hobbled, troubled line agencies are just about ready to sign on the dotted line, never mind if such is tantamount to an admission that they cannot do their jobs and have to call in the Marines.

Getting the soldiers to do it is, again, nothing new. These are tasks that the military does during post-conflict/disaster rebuilding or in stabilizing under-served conflict-affected areas until governance is restored and civilian institutions become functional. Then, too, the National Development Support Command (NADESCOM) was formed by the much-maligned GMA Administration with this in mind: Get the military to work on these flagship infrastructure projects because then these would stand a better chance of being accomplished before all the funding would get corrupted. This much-vaunted Oplan Bayanihan merely expands GMA’s idea of getting the soldiers to deliver basic services where LGUs and line agencies cannot be trusted to deliver. Just get the civilian institutions to invite the soldiers in through MOU/MOAs or, as was started in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental two years back, barangay resolutions.

More do-the-math will show that this plan will save the civilian bureaucracy billions. To stir up development in the countryside, there is actually no need to hire service providers and transport them on site. Our soldiers are already on government payroll and they are all over the islands. My personal experience of working on some capacitation needs of our troops tells me that we indeed have disciplined soldiers ably backed by the most functional training system I’ve seen in years. Our men and women are quite ready to be turned posthaste into paramedics, parateachers, carpenters, relief workers, environmentalists or whatever the people in their area of responsibility have a particular need for. All these, on top of them being combat-ready troops, too.

I would have proposed for the need to prepare them first for community immersion, similar to the Operations Peace Course (OP Kors!) design of Balay Mindanao, and for mental health management training to inoculate them against the more complex stress of crossing over to off-camp, multi-stakeholder environments. Well, the IPSP designers didn’t think of everything, obviously, so I’ll just put in my two cents’ worth here and hope someone is paying attention.

What is shaping up with the implementation of the IPSP is a condition that the rebel communist movement would hate to see. Already, we see some of these results in the areas where the 10th Infantry Division, for example, had let loose its Peace and Development Teams (PDTs) months before the IPSP was announced. While the rebel forces instigate for violent confrontations where civilians could get caught in the crossfire, the PDT members remember they are there for development work, not for combat engagements. A confrontation with the few remaining rebels is not any more the primary goal of their presence in the community.

So if you have been puzzling over the cryptic message of the 10ID spokesman on the unit’s response to the casualties its PDTs suffered this week in Tagum, Comval and Malita, the pronouncements are in keeping with the IPSP: The soldiers were there upon the request of the LGU and other stakeholders to work on development projects for these communities, and the rebels gunned them down. (Shame on you.) Delivering community development is more important than turning these communities into warzones. (Again, shame on you for deliberately denying these communities the delivery of much-needed basic services.)

How many troops on these non-combat missions would ultimately be sacrificed until the belligerent rebels get the general idea, I cringe to anticipate. Still, it’s not only the callous heart of the rebels that IPSP would unmask. It would also show that the 1991 LGU Code has done little to bring development to the countryside. The IPSP is an admission that yet again in the history of this nation, it takes military muscle to step in and address failure in governance.

And as he has always done, ang abang sundalo ng bayan will comply to serve his bayan in this way and save the Aquino II Administration the cost of hiring contractual workers. This way, there’s no overtime or separation pay to worry about, no ghost employees and discipline problems. Brilliant.

(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says.)