by Alan Robles
Every Filipino will be required to have a national ID card. Military service will be compulsory for men who reach the age of 21. Soldiers will be immune from civilian law. The press will be limited to "responsible reporting" and "positive commentaries." The punishment for capital crimes will be a firing squad, which will be provided by the armed forces.
Behold Philippine democracy, military style. It's what the future could hold if colonels and generals ever gain control of the country. It's part of a program called "The New Order - Restoring Democracy in the Philippines", spelled out in a document that has been circulating among soldiers.
The writer is supposed to be Major Jason Aquino, an Army Scout Ranger who was recently relieved of his post as operations chief in a paratroop unit because he was allegedly agitating against the government. The major has been described as "very analytical", and his paper shows a great deal of detail in its proposals.
However, the program is uneven, a grab-bag of wishes, promises and hopes. What the "New Order" depicts is a military pseudo-socialist wonderland where everything is well run, all citizens are responsible and all crimes are punished. Would that it were so. The government proposed is one governed by a president and unicameral legislative, but the overtones are militaristic.
To begin with, the paper's author probably isn't aware that the phrase "New Order" is most commonly associated with Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. The similarity doesn't end there. When the document claims that "our vision of man and society is beyond the purely material and economic order", it could be a Nazi partymember speaking at a Munich street corner in the 1920s.
In the vision the program has, every Filipino will only be allowed to own a maximum of 10 hectares of land. There will be no income tax on labor - instead consumption and "net worth" will be taxed. Education will be free, all basic services will be nationalized and government employees will not be allowed to form unions.
Government will 'create jobs that raise productivity and living standards", bring down the cost of food, go after the "unpunished and untouchable crime lords" Apparently the writer of the program doesn't think various governments have been trying to do just that. When he goes on to say that "there will be no peace negotiations with rebels" it apparently hasn't occurred to him that peace negotiations have been going on precisely because no government has been able to suppress the rebels.
The document's lens of reform zooms in and out crazily, from the micro (detailing how billboards should be placed in cities) to the macro ("target a yearly GDP growth of at least ten per cent, through higher productivity, more favorable terms of trade, and more efficient and effective").
"The New Order" would just be one more idealistic, wooly-minded unreal set of proposals, if it weren't for one thing: its advocates are soldiers. It's not the "what " which Filipinos should worry about in this program. It's the "how" and the "who."
There's a strong element of compulsion that pervades the entire document -which raises the question of who's going to do the compelling If people refuse to get with the program, will they be earnestly cajoled by soft-spoken soldiers? Or will they get a boot and bayonet for resisting the New Order?
In addition it's not clear how the "New Order" will deal with grafters like Major General Carlos Garcia, currently being tried for having allegedly salted away millions of pesos when he was comptroller of the armed forces. What the document says is that soldiers will be subject to military justice, which means they will be beyond civilian law. The plan though, does have a menacing sentence: "The war on corruption must not exempt big businesses, civil society, and the media." Also, "whenever crime is committed, the AFP has the power to physically produce uncooperative witnesses present within 1km radius from the scene of the crime for immediate investigation and filing of the case."
What makes "The New Order" significant is that it marks a step in evolution: when soldiers staged coup attempts in the late 1980s they had lists of grievances and incoherent ideas of what they would do once in power. That has changed. In the Oakwood Mutiny two years ago, the rebels had a "National Recovery Programme" as part of their arsenal. Now here is the latest iteration of a military political plan - concise, well-written, detailed and chilling because it is just one more indication that soldiers are beginning to move to the belief that they can handle affairs themselves. Coming soon to a barracks near you.