In a short essay published by Inquirer the other Sunday, Gen. Danilo Lim traced his “journey” from a West Point educated officer to a rebel soldier and a political prisoner. Today I shall match his story with the story of my own journey from amrabid anti-militarist to an avid supporter of Gen. Lim.

My narrative starts from the Manila Hotel where, soon after EDSA 1, the Marcos loyalists gathered to clamor for the enthronement of Arturo Tolentino. Having learned from a very reliable source that some of the RAM boys took part in planning that comic affair, I went around frantically warning of an insidious plot from the politicized soldiery or what I termed the “politicians in uniform.”

Such paranoia was fueled by the liberal doctrine that by the nature of their profession, soldiers are essentially reactionary and authoritarian; they should therefore be kept on leash, banished from politics and placed under firm civilian control. It began to wane when I joined a research project for the UN University on “the politicization of the military and the militarization of politics.” In connection with that project I studied several military coups in other parts of the world. Thus I came across instances when the military played a definitely positive role of overthrowing right-wing dictatorships and setting in motion the process of system change.

To illustrate, let me cite the “carnation revolution” in Portugal. Portuguese fascism was the oldest in Europe, antedating Mussolini, Hitler and Franco. Antonio de Oliviera Salazar founded the first fascist state in 1926. He was ruthless but was more subdued than Hitler and Mussolini. The Salazar regime survived World War II because with the outbreak of the Cold War the United States – the self-appointed champion of the “free world” – coddled it as an ally against communism.

After 42 years in power, the Portuguese tyrant died in 1968; but before going into a coma he was able to arrange a smooth transition to handpicked successors. So well entrenched did the successor regime appear so that the political scientists specializing in the study of Portugal last for a long time. Yet in April 1974 it collapsed all of sudden, like the proverbial colossus with feet of clay.

This event known as the “carnation revolution” caught the Portugal watchers by surprise because, trapped in the conventional paradigm of political science, they were only monitoring the puny resistance of the liberal and social democratic parties. They paid no attention to undercurrents in the armed forces, believing that the military would always be a bastion of fascist rule. As it turned out, it was a military group that crushed the backbone of fascism in Portugal.

The experts were oblivious of the fact that the junior officers, fresh from the African campaigns, had been radicalized by their own experience in the battlefield. They realized that they were duped to fight an unjust war by a government that was also oppressing the Portuguese people themselves. Back in Lisbon, they formed a secret society called Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA) and in April 1974 they launched a coup against the dictatorship.

The MFA junta (known as the Junta for National Salvation) adopted a socialist program and released from colonial rule not only the Portuguese colonies in Africa, but even East Timor, a somnolent territory where there was no pre-existing independence movement. Unfortunately, the progressive military regime lasted only for two years. Unlike Col. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the MFA did not build a mass base for its radical reforms. Moreover, they didn’t know how to govern: they mismanaged the economy and international diplomacy. Their ineptitude created an opening for the deposed elite to instigate and finance a counter-coup in collaboration with the CIA.

With such cases in mind, my monograph on the politics of the military already reflected my growing ambivalence. Coincidentally, I presented the monograph to a UN University seminar in Katmandu on the eve of the 1989 coup in Manila. When this erupted, I could not make up my mind. I had lost enthusiasm for Cory Aquino but neither could I be enthusiastic about the coup. I faulted Cory for restoring the old system of elite rule, an oligarchy masquerading as democratic. But the alternative was not alluring. There was a strong suspicion that the coup aimed to install Ponce Enrile and Salvador Laurel; in other words, another reshuffle of personnel at the top that would leave the system of elite rule intact.

Danny Lim, then a captain of the Scout Rangers, took part in that coup as leader of the Young Officers Union. I did not have the slightest idea of what vision inspired. It was only when he got out of detention that I met him through Haydee Yorac. Our long conversations convinced me that the YOU resembled the MFA of Portugal, that it represented a trend whose political outlook was not too different from mine.

Let me summarize the insights drawn from my studies on the military in the process of social change.
There never was an instance in the history of any country when a repressive regime was brought down through purely civilian action or “people power.” Regime change through extra-constitutiona l means invariably involves a military component. Three possible scenarios can be considered in the Philippine context: (1) the military as a whole turns against the regime, as happened in EDSA 2; (2) part of the military breaks with the chain of command and joins the insurgent citizenry, as in EDSA 1; and (3) the mass movement builds its own army and, through protracted war, beats the government armed forces, as Joma has been dreaming over the last four decades.

At the Katmandu seminar, an Indian scholar reproached me for ignoring the case of India where, he said, national liberation was achieved through non-violence in a purely civilian struggle. In fact, I studied that as well. But my study of the Indian case led me to believe that Gandhi’s satyagraha could not have succeeded were it not for a threat of a violent upheaval. The British conceded to the Mahatma’s demands whenever he went on hunger strike because the alternative to Gandhi was Subhas Chandra Bose, a stern advocate of violent revolution. Were it not for the prospect of Subhas Chandra Bose seizing the leadership of the independence movement, the British might have allowed what Winston Churchill described as a “half-naked fakir” to fast himself to death. Later events confirmed this hypothesis. Once the murder of Gandhi removed his restraining moral authority, the Hindus and Indian Moslems immediately embarked on the worst carnage in history.

It is wrong to view the Philippine military as one solid bloc. All assurances from the office of Col. Brawner that everything is under control cannot conceal the widespread restlessness among the Filipino soldiers today. True, most generals belong to the conventional mold. They peddle the myth of political neutrality. In truth, the Philippine military has always been politically involved . . . on the side of the power elite, against the peasant movements and the militant trade unions. The predecessors of the AFP were the Filipino mercenaries recruited by the Americans to suppress their compatriots.

For circumstances too complex to analyze here, a new trend has emerged in the uniformed services. There is a growing network of thinking soldiers who do not blindly obey orders from above. Unlike Tennyson’s foolish light brigade who meekly marched to the jaws of death, believing that their’s is not to reason why but simply to do or die, the thinking Filipino soldiers ask whether the orders are legitimate and moral, and they always stand for what is true, just and right.**

I will leave it for Gen. Danny Lim to explain how this came about. Just allow me to express a view which he might not like to hear: that his election to the Senate will not in itself make a difference to the future of our country for as long as the system of elite rule prevails. He will be a solitary voice in an elite-dominated and trapo-infested legislature. I have no illusion that he will succeed in passing laws to institutionalize fundamental reforms. But even if such a miracle does happen, the laws he sponsors will be diluted by the President through his/her power to set the implementing rules and his/her control over the release of funds. Ultimately these laws will be perverted by a bureaucracy that is susceptible to elite and American pressures.

Nonetheless, I will vote for Gen. Lim because he represents a force that, in tandem with the militant mass movement, opens up the prospect for a just and progressive society our people deserve. A vote for him is a slap on the faces of the trapos and the crooked generals who keep him in prison. Sa paningin ko, ang kahalagahan ng election ay symbolic lamang at hindi katulad sa sinasabi ng ABS-CBN na ito ang simula ng pagbabago.

*This is a speech delivered by Former UP President Francisco “Dodong” Nemenzo at a symposium sponsored by the Third World Studies Center about a week ago. The title of this piece is also an allusion to an article entitled “A Soldier’s Journey” published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer last month. It was written by Brig. Gen. Danny Lim.

For the past few days, I got the chance to visit Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila for a couple of reasons. As an employment requirement, I have to get my Transcript of Records from the University Registrar. And I also volunteered as a facilitator for a Student Summit co-organized by our resident members from the Bukluran Student Alliance.

Regarding my academic documents that our HR Department requires me to submit, I was, at first, bad trip for having to go through the hassle of not enjoying a rest day. Just the mere idea of commuting from Quezon City to downtown Manila is discouraging enough especially these hot days of summer.

But when I landed in the place that housed my scholarly, activist and fraternity activities for a few years, I never thought that it’ll nurse some sentimentalism and inject enjoyment in this tiring world.

The offices that I need to visit gave me the chance to reminisce some scenes especially of arguments with the PLM powers-that-be, learn of some new people in some old positions (a few are even contemporaries during my PLM days) and get long lost friends’ contacts (as two employees as moms of former orgmates— which I have to admit somehow hastened the usually tedious process of getting a clearance… hehe).

One of the best scenes, albeit trivial, was the part when I saw English Professor Adil (not to be confused with Opposition Spokesperson and PLM President Adel Tamano ;p) at the Celso Carunungan Library. The story of a friend that submitted I Will Survive lyrics in prose style to Prof. Adil as an essay assignment almost made Conan D’ Librarian (yes, that mood-swinging librarian is still there) mad at me. What’s worse is that my friend’s “essay” got an uno!? Dumb Adil. The same dumb Adil, I must say, as she still looks clueless on what she should do. She is actually standing in front of a table looking around the library the whole time that such a wacky scene is flashing in my mind.

The second part of my “homecoming” is more political than the first; a student summit entitled Youth Challenge. But as we’re enjoying the intermission by folk singer Noel Cabangon, another scene flashed cerebrally that if I remember it right, it seems that it was decade since a nationally-relevant activity was held at the Justo Albert Auditorium. I think it is due to Manila Mayor Lito Atienza’s Pro-Gloria politics and his cohort former PLM President Tayabas’ conservatism.

I can still remember that then Anakbayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes was one of the speakers then together with Senator Raul Roco. Imagine that Nato is now the spokesperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan! That reveals my age. Hehe. The same activity actually persuaded me to go find another activist group other than LFS (Anakbayan failed to establish a chapter in PLM until this day) because Reyes can’t answer simple questions straightly then, way far from his eloquence in his present TV interviews.

Back to the summit, the chance of being one of the facilitators also led me to the conclusion that there is still no radicalization among the students. Yes (to my and a lot of people’s dismay), that is even after the NBN-Lozada-bubukol po ito-probinsyanong intsik-soap opera.

Some of the students are still sharp and intelligent though, I must say. I can’t even dare assert that they are passive as attending a political summit while their friends may be enjoying Boracay or Puerto Galera is being active in itself, or actively curious at least.

Well, at least, it is better than the time of ebb. Student leaders and social movements, in PLM and in other schools, should capture the youth’s imagination for them to be aroused into progressive action for social change.

If they can’t do it, they might as well go back to school and assess what made them act when they’re much younger or mere students before.