Douglas MacArthur may have famously quoted the old West Point barracks song, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away,” but retired Maj. Gen. Fortunato Abat simply refuses to fade away. In our acronym-obsessed culture, it was perhaps unintended, but one such acronym chosen by his colleagues in the past, ANTS (for Alliance of National Transformation and Solidarity), seems appropriate. Abat has a proud reputation among his military peers of being a straight-shooter and he is known for discipline and his insistence on well-trained personnel, as well as the development programs which he instituted. However, as political amateur, his record is reckless and downright sinister.
At first blush, Abat’s reading of our nation’s current situation is correct: “Traditional politics has become the major stumbling block in the socioeconomic advancement of the country. Social inequities have given rise to insurgencies, criminal and terrorist violence holding hostage our forward development,” he has said. People, too, can applaud his statement that “I am not for a coup d’état. I’m not for a military takeover-I abhor it,” as any right-minded person should. What is all wrong is Abat’s prescription for curing the country’s ills: installing a junta, or waging a revolution, whether sooner or later.
The impractical and dangerous nature of the call made by Abat is best demonstrated by the manner in which his “revolutionary” convention at the Club Filipino fell apart over the question of a tactical alliance with militant groups. At the same time, from Utrecht in the Netherlands, came a call from Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison, basically endorsing the same sort of scheme Abat had cooked up. If Abat ended up walking out of his Club Filipino gabfest over what to him looked like a scandalous idea of a fair-weather alliance with militants, then Sison’s endorsement of his ideas should prove beyond a shadow of a doubt just how easily his idea of setting up a junta can play into the hands of the very insurgency he detests.
Former President Fidel V. Ramos put it best when he recently said of Abat and friends: “They are doing a great disservice to our country. This will hurt everybody. Let us not panic. Let us stay united … Let us not believe these so-called messiahs who think they have the answers to the problems of this country.” Ramos went on to point out that Abat was a “former Marcos man” (but then, so was Ramos), and crucially, that Abat “never joined Edsa I. He was with Ver (Ferdinand Marcos’ military chief, Gen. Fabian Ver) fighting us during the People Power Revolution.”
However, Abat’s mistake apparently did not prevent Ramos from later appointing him as his defense secretary, boosting Abat’s prominence and credibility. So while the country should welcome Ramos’ clear denunciation of coup plots and junta schemes, he must also own up to having created the political freak that Abat has become.
The current incarnation of Abat’s ANTS is now known as the Coalition for National Salvation, with the unamusing acronym of CNS. Its demands, as we’ve pointed out, are not only ambiguous but outright dangerous to democracy and genuine reform. And yet, why did its actions result in coup jitters and a flurry of statements and counter-statements? Its actions caused alarm due to the basic truth in its primary allegation, as explained in Abat’s statement: our system is a mess, and our officials are making a mess of things.
However, in its desire for an extra-constitutional, radical and authoritarian solution, CNS has shown itself to be far removed from the mentality of the public it claims to serve. One does not have to be a fan of former President Corazon Aquino to know that the only way to “restore democracy [is] by the ways of democracy,” as she put it. And that way is charted through elections-messy, frustrating and easily susceptible to corruption as that way may be.
Two landmarks in the path to change are the local elections in 2007 and the national elections in 2010. There, all groups can surely find the means to exert pressure on an unsatisfactory status quo. The present administration, the most unpopular in the history of measured public opinion, will depend on the 2007 elections for its political survival. Two years from now is ample time to prepare for an overwhelming, clear and unquestionable referendum on its policies and governance.