Farewell to the Armed Forces
Delivered at Camp Aguinaldo
June 25, 1992
I thank you with all my heart for this tribute. I cannot but be moved by the colors of the corps, the sound of drums and the men and women in uniform standing at attention. So much honor, courage, loyalty and duty in this historic place.
When I leave Malacañang, perhaps the last I shall see at the gate will be the sentry giving me the final salute. I shall return that salute with deep emotion. For no Commander-in-Chief, with the exception of my predecessor, has been as deeply involved as I have been with the military. There was, of course, one crucial difference between us: I gave you trust, I treated you with respect, and left you with infinitely greater honor than he did.
I brought you together with the people whom you must protect; he kept you apart to be the blind instrument of his ambition.
But I must say that, in the end, you gave me more loyalty and infinitely greater service than you gave him.
My critics say that I should not compare the Marcos regime too often with my own, and the military under Marcos with what it is today. I don’t see why not. For no one can deny that you are a better military.
It is true that, under me, some of the military lost certain privileges that it enjoyed under the dictatorship. But with me the military won a country that is worth serving and worth dying for. Our country finally has the military it deserves.
It should not be surprising that I devoted the better part of my lecture at the University of the Philippines to the military question. For this question is central to the larger one of the future of Philippine democracy.
After all the work that you and I put into it, that question will be answered on June 30, when the first peaceful, democratic transition takes place in a quarter of a century. And the military helped make it possible. Chief of Staff General Lisandro Abadia, take a bow.
Your duty and devotion during the worst trials of the government is a memory I shall cherish. It is the glory of the past six years that they were the story of the battle for freedom. A battle we thought had ended, but which really only began at EDSA.
It is easily forgotten but the battle was waged mostly by the military; and the story of those years was more of loyalty than of betrayal. When the smoke clears, the disloyalty of the few will be seen against the backdrop of the great majority who held fast to their oath and duty.
In the 1930s, the military of a neighboring country intervened in politics and has not stopped doing so since. In 1986, the Philippine military intervened in Philippine politics – and did not stop until it put an end to the habit of intervention.
My intuition was right after all. In Singapore in 1985, I said that, even as the widow of Ninoy Aquino, I was not prepared to condemn an entire organization for the sins of a few. As in every organization there are good elements and bad. The important thing is to strengthen the first.
I have spoken plainly, especially to those whose lives depend on the precision of their orders. I always told General de Villa to take whatever I say at face value, for I never have a secret agenda.
I said the government would last, and it did. I said I would step down and I will; I even campaigned for my successor. I said democracy would survive and you helped me to ensure it.
I asked you, time and again, to trust me to handle the insurgency my way, and you did. The result fell short of my aspiration for a quick and universal peace, but it did not fall too far short of our objective – to make a serious and credible start in ending the insurgency.
I am aware of the agony you went through to help me fulfill these vows. I have always known it.
In my first speech to the Philippine Military Academy in 1986, I said that in February, 1986, the soldier faced a dilemma no textbook had prepared him for: What do you do when the civilian authority is itself the threat to democracy? Where lies the loyalty of the soldier, with the nation or to the government of the day?
“During the long years of the past regime, our armed forces shared the agony of every Filipino. The shame and dismay of having at the head of our proud nation a man whose greed humbled our pride and whose cruelty put Filipino at war with Filipino.
“Just as we owe it to every Filipino to restore a government they can be proud of, so we owe it to our young soldiers to have a government they can be proud to defend. Military honor in the service of the state cannot be separate from the kind of government a soldier is required to serve.”
I understood, even then, the difficulty of the choices the military had to make. The choice to defy the previous government in the teeth of the soldier’s oath, and the decision to defend the succeeding government against the advice of the military’s most popular commanders.
I went through the same agony of decision myself. Among the first officers I promoted was one who warned me that he had stayed loyal to his Commander-in-Chief to the end. I told him that I hoped he would do the same for me.
On the other hand, among the most perplexing problems of the new government was how to recognize – consistently with military tradition – the patriotism of those who had broken their oath to one Commander-in-Chief without justifying their refusal to honor their oath to obey another.
The first time they broke their oath it was in the name of the people and for the sake of democracy. But there were those who claimed to hear the voice of the people when they were only listening to themselves conspire against the new government. We never had it easy, you and I; as easy as those who will come after us.
I stretched the patience of the military to dangerous lengths when I released Joma Sison and Commander Dante, top leaders of the insurgency in captivity. It was a campaign pledge. From this act stemmed much of the murmuring in the military against me. It was the same when I called for a ceasefire and talks with the communist rebels, although that initiative was backed by the best military advice. But it must be said that the murmurs never rose to the pitch of defiance on the part of the majority. Only those who were against me, whatever I did, opposed me. For what they wanted was not a policy agreeable with the military, but a power-sharing scheme agreeable to themselves.
Perhaps we were ahead of our time in proposing peace as the way to peace, instead of more war. But the times have caught up with us. Communism is a dead creed and the insurgency is in irreversible decline. The military has grown in strength by involving itself in development. The insurgency has weakened by persisting in war.
The strength of the insurgency dropped 46% - from 24,400 in 1986 to 13,000 today. The drop in insurgent arms registered almost the same percentage. Insurgent-affected barangays dropped 67% from 8,400 in 1986 to 2,800 today. The number of active guerilla fronts was cut in half.
True the insurgents can still mount a surprise attack on a solitary unit to mock these statistics, but they will never regain the strategic advantage. Not while this army remains true to what it has become.
Time has proved that we took the right course. Joma Sison may be the last communist in Europe who takes himself seriously. And the developmental work of Commander Dante may be the best formula yet for peace and development: people-powered efforts, for people directed gains.
Perhaps the military itself will take the initiative to end the war by a unilateral declaration of peace in the next administration; and thereby leave the insurgents to fight the wars of yesterday in the non-existent battlefields of tomorrow. For the military has regained the confidence to meet all internal threats to the republic on any terms it chooses: on terms of peace or in the language of war.
1985-86 was indeed a time of great confusion for the military and the civilian government. For the military, it was a time when treason could be either patriotism of a crime, depending on the circumstances. For me, it was a time when it was either wisdom or folly to depend on the chain of command. Yet, I did.
I wasn’t sure and you didn’t know. It was only the decision to trust each other that allowed us to breach the wall between us, and join hands in the common defense and the development of our country.
From 1987 to 1989, and up to the present, there was never any doubt that those who persisted in rebellion amounted to no more that a few who hungered for power. That time is now behind us. The Armed Forces stands firm and united – in force and purpose – behind the Constitution. It is a testament to the strength of that commitment and to the military’s true understanding of democracy, that while the constitution was rejected by the military in 1987, it was defended by them throughout the following years. The military had returned to its ancient code: Honor is obedience.
The reforms in the military, which I entrusted to the military itself, have resulted in a clear definition of its continuing tasks and in the emergence of new challenges. The designation of the PNP to handle internal security has brought to the fore the main constitutional duty of the Armed Forces, the work of national defense.
But this development also brings out the urgency to modernize the AFP for a task that grows ever larger and more urgent with every discovery of the hidden riches of our country, especially its least defensible borders.
But the main resource of the AFP for the task of national defense is the unity and professionalism it has attained, and the trust and respect it has engendered in the people. That trust is nowhere more brightly reflected than in the election of a former military man to the Presidency of the nation. This resource must never be squandered by those who continue to hope that the AFP can be used again as the catapult of their ambitions.
And now I must bid farewell. In a sense, you, too, are leaving politics with me. For the military must, in the words of a great soldier, thenceforth stand “serene, calm and aloof as the Nation’s war guardian, as its lifeguard from the raging tides of international conflict, as its gladiator in the arena of battle….
“Let civilian voices argue the merits of demerits of our processes of government…. These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a tenfold beacon in the night: duty, honor, country.”
Perhaps, like that soldier, I too shall dream of “the crash of guns” and “the rattle of musketry,” of the eerie silence that precedes the attack. But when I wake I shall remember only the loyalty, honor and courage of those who fought on our side.
It is fitting and proper that I should come here as one of my last acts of office; here among soldiers. For as I came to power, so have I chosen to leave it – who risked their lives and wagered everything to restore democracy, and stood by me in its defense. I can only praise you for your professionalism and thank you for your loyalty.
Six years ago, you did not know me. In six years and four months, we have come to know each other very well, and what I know I like very much.
In 1986, at the PMA, I said to you, the military, that we would face whatever must come together: you and I and the people. Those words were prophetic, for our partnership has weathered every storm and brought the ship of state safely home in a new administration.
I ended my speech to the PMA cadets with these words: “Once more you are back where you longed to be, on the side of the people. Welcome home, my soldiers.”
Some people said I was presumptuous to call the soldiers my own. After six years and many battles, I have earned the right to say: Goodbye, my soldiers.