Soldiers of Fortune: Should the military be politicized?


This question requires a simple definition of terms.

What is a State? The State, according the Andrew Heywood, is the highest political entity in a country. It is not to be confused with the government. The State, like the Family or Civil Society, is an abstract concept, while the government is the body employed by the State to carry out the functions of the State. That is why there is a distinction between heads of government and heads of State. They are not, as the Pinoy English expression goes, “the same banana.” I think it is closer to our concept of “Bayan”, whereas the government is closer to our concept of “pamahalaan.”

The military is not supposed to be an agent of the government, but rather the State. For while the priorities of the government may change from term to term, the interests of the State remain the same. This is why there may be just coup de etats or military uprisings: because the government may betray State interests.

The State, as it is the highest political body in the land, should have the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence. This requirement is fulfilled by the military and the police force. But the difference is that the police force serves the State only indirectly, as it is directly the arm of the government. That is why it is weird for a military person to say that he or she enforces “the rule of law.” Such is the job of the police force. The military is supposed to be concerned with balancing those who challenge the State’s sovereignty, internally and externally.

By this definition we can say that the military is indeed political. Its existence is borne out of political necessity. However, when we say “influenced by politics” it is not a question of should the military be political (it is, by its definition). It is a question of whether or not the military should be politicized.

In the context of the Philippines, at least, being “politicized” means to be subject to the influences of a political and economic elite. When the military, for example, massacres farmers expressing dissent against their landlords, that is the military being politicized. When the military is ordered to abduct and kill political opponents by a dictator, that is not serving the interest of the State, but rather the political leader and his or her government. When coup de etats are quelled by the promise of positions in the government for the generals and support for their campaigns as members of the Congress, that is the military being politicized. This is prevalent in our country. This has been the case, especially post-Marcos.

Does this confusion, then, cause conflict? It does. Internally, those who espouse different political views about how the government is running the State are always in the fear of being eliminated. Military personnel, especially the higher-ups feel entitled to bargain with senators and the executive for personal interests, as they have something to offer in return. We end up with a military with an identity crisis: unaware of what is justly required of them. Do they serve the State or the political and economic elite?

Externally, we are left with a military force which stands inferior against external threats. Because the government allots funds largely to the military to fund elite interests (i.e. militarization) rather than interests of the State (e.g. strengthening border defense, in the case of the territorial disputes with China), we end up with a military that is not only laughable, but is more of a threat to its own People, to its own State, rather than to external challengers.


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