The 1987 Constitution declares, “The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people.” During the Marcos regime, whenever AFP soldiers patrolled the hinterlands, they could sense that the people did not welcome them as the AFP was perceived as the protector of the Marcos dictatorship. In the 1986 Edsa I, the AFP finally broke free from the Marcos dictatorship and transformed itself as the protector of the people. The AFP had learned the hard lesson that it cannot win an insurgency, or survive for long, without the support of the people. In the 2001 Edsa II, the AFP again sided with the people.
Thirty-five years after Edsa I, the AFP seems to have forgotten that hard lesson from the Marcos dictatorship. Under the Duterte administration, the AFP is now alienating itself from the people through a series of dubious initiatives. First, the AFP initiated the anti-terrorism law, empowering military personnel, without judicial warrants, to arrest anyone suspected of terrorism. The 1987 Constitution reinstated the safeguard in the 1935 Constitution that only judges can issue warrants of arrest, precisely because of the abuses in the issuance by executive officials of arrest and seizure orders during the Marcos dictatorship. The anti-terrorism law seeks to undo this safeguard. Thirty seven petitions, filed by people representing a broad cross-section of Philippine society, have questioned the constitutionality of the anti-terrorism law. This is a case of the people versus the AFP.
Second, the AFP wants the party list system in the 1987 Constitution abolished because allegedly communist-affiliated parties, numbering not more than three, have won seats under the party list system. If communists want to join the parliamentary struggle and give up the armed struggle, why stop them? Abolishing the party list system means removing 20 percent of the members of the House of Representatives. This is a case of all the parties under the party list system versus the AFP.
Third, the AFP is supporting the cancellation of the UP-DND Accord and similar accords that have kept the peace between the AFP and the academic community nationwide since 1989. The campuses cannot be the hotbed of communist recruitment because the whole world knows communism is a dead ideology. Cuba is now the only true communist state, and no country in the world wants to be like Cuba. China, despite being ruled by a communist party, is now the most predatory capitalist state in the world. Vietnam, also ruled by a communist party, is another die-hard capitalist state. North Korea is a hereditary monarchy masquerading as a communist state. As in Nazism, only the most naïve students can be inveigled to believe in communism, and there will always be a handful of them in any society. The cancellation of the UP-DND Accord is a case of the academic community of the Philippines versus the AFP.
Fourth, in 2013 the AFP announced that there were only 4,000 armed communist rebels operating in the country. Eight years later in 2021, the AFP is still saying there are 4,000 armed communist rebels, despite the announcement every year of hundreds of armed rebels killed, captured, or who surrendered. Almost every new AFP chief of staff, upon assuming office, has vowed to end the communist insurgency during his tenure. And yet the communists have maintained their strength at 4,000 armed men up to now. This is a world record—a rag-tag army of 4,000 armed rebels standing their ground against the professional AFP of 140,000 soldiers and the Philippine National Police of 220,000 police officers.
The communists continue to extort revolutionary taxes from businessmen, who as taxpayers must also fund the AFP’s P16.4 billion budget for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. Businessmen are hit by both sides because of the never-ending insurgency. Worse, the disbursement of the P16.4 billion budget will likely draw the AFP into partisan political activities as the funds will be spent just before the 2022 national elections. The AFP should never allow itself to be dragged into partisan politics. Otherwise, this will be another case of the people versus the AFP. The thinkers in the AFP must take stock of these disturbing initiatives which will not win for the AFP the hearts and minds of the people.