By Jejomar C. Binay
Former Vice President
In my previous column, I wrote about the need to insulate appointments to the judiciary from any form of political patronage by allowing the members of the bench to accept, evaluate, and select the new members themselves.
This independent selection process should apply to another important institution – the military.
I have always found it impractical and unnecessary to subject officers of the Armed Forces from the rank of colonel to confirmation by the Commission on Appointments (CA), as required under Article VII, Section 16, of the Constitution.
Why was this requirement included in the first place? Fr. Joaquin Bernas Jr., a noted constitutionalist and a member of the Constitutional commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution, explains that members of the commission perceived that coups were “generally led by colonels.”
I would assume that by subjecting colonels to the confirmation process, the framers of our Constitution wanted a mechanism to weed out potential troublemakers. It will also serve as a constant reminder to the military of civilian supremacy, as represented by the CA.
But times have changed. The military, in my view, has matured into a disciplined, professional organization whose fealty to the Constitution has been proven on many occasions.
Because of this constitutional requirement, professional soldiers are forced to become political creatures. Early in their careers, they strive to be on the good side of politicians, knowing that displeasing a politician, especially a CA member, would mean either rough sailing or outright rejection. This enforced politicking turns the concept of “politics in command” – to borrow a phrase from a noted military tactician – on its head. What we now have are “politicians in command.”
But courting the support of politicians is just the first step. Military officers also undergo confirmation hearings where some legislators display their propensity to grandstand and bully ranking military officers.
I cannot forget one such confirmation hearing where a former legislator fond of quoting the Scriptures bullied a highly decorated military officer on live television, even blocking his confirmation.
Can someone explain to me what purpose is served when politicians – most of whom have never lived a soldier’s life nor put their lives in harm’s way to protect the nation – intimidate and humiliate a soldier of the republic on national television?
I talked to a retired officer who went through the CA wringer and asked about his experience. He said he was summoned three times by the commission, leaving him no choice but to be away from his command for an extended period. He was made to answer issues and allegations against him, most of which he described as baseless and merely intended to derail his promotion.
He likened the experience to going through the proverbial eye of the needle but he was eventually confirmed.
This officer may consider himself lucky. The issues against him were raised in executive session and not in an open hearing televised by major networks.
The military is a self-contained organization. It has a distinct culture, internal rules and procedures, and traditions. Like the judiciary, the members of the military are in the best position to determine who is qualified among them. There is an existing internal promotions process through the AFP Promotions Board.
While the officer I talked to described the promotions system as far from perfect, he emphasized that over the years, the AFP has taken positive steps to place the needs of the organization above everything else. Candidates for promotion go through rigorous screening and review by the Promotions Board but external factors, among them meddling politicians, hamper its independence.
While we’re at it, I think we should also begin reviewing the criteria for selecting the AFP chief of staff. Again, like appointments to the Supreme Court, particularly the choice of the chief justice, political motive is always ascribed to the appointment of the AFP chief of staff. The credentials of a newly appointed chief of staff is sadly relegated to the background. Political observers are predisposed to simplifying the criteria; he is either a province mate, a classmate, a former aide, or a member of a Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class where the president is an honorary member.
Our soldiers should not be forced to play politics in order to get their promotion. A military where the process of promotion is truly insulated from politics is an institution of professional soldiers loyal only to the Constitution.