Armored vehicles rolled out of a police camp one weekend when a throng of Roman Catholic devotees jostled to get close to a miraculous wooden icon of Jesus carrying a cross at a public park in Manila.

The January 9 Feast of the Black Nazarene every year always draws a mammoth crowd but authorities had never brought out armored vehicles to respond to a peaceful religious activity.

During the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, security was tightened due to threats from Islamist militants, forcing the government to shut down mobile phone services along the three-kilometer route of the procession.

There was heavy police presence but there were no armored vehicles and massive checkpoints away from Luneta and around Ermita and Quiapo areas where the Black Nazarene festivities are held.

Two memos surfaced – one from the Cordillera region in the north and another from Butuan in Mindanao – indicating that police forces were being placed on high alert because of a development in the military.

Police officials have denied the existence of the memos, describing them as fabrications, or “fake news.” They said the police were only on heightened alert because of the Feast of the Black Nazarene.

However, the actions spoke louder than the police and military officials’ assurances that everything was under control and there were no reports of destabilization attempts.

Obviously, some people became paranoid and panicked. They overreacted and the public started speculating, fanning rumors of discontent in the uniformed services.

The last time a destabilization attempt happened was during the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when soldiers facing trials at a Makati regional trial court walked out and marched to the Manila Peninsula hotel, hoping supporters would gather outside for a reprise of the “people power” revolt that toppled two presidents – Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001.

In 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte announced a make-believe “Red October” plot to oust him, an excuse to crack down on the political opposition, Communist rebels and nosy journalists.

An armored vehicle rammed the lobby of the Manila Peninsula hotel to end the one-day siege during Arroyo’s time. There was no troop movement during Duterte’s time, reinforcing speculation that he was inventing a threat.

The last real and serious threat from rogue soldiers happened in 2003 when young officers, mostly members of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1995, took over Oakwood hotel at the heart of the capital’s business district.

It was a short-lived attempt to unseat Arroyo but the memories continue to hound leaders who took some preemptive measures. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr himself has tried to get full control of the armed forces and the national police.

A few days before armored vehicles rolled out in the streets, the secretary of the interior and local government, Benhur Abalos, asked more than 900 generals and colonels in the police force to tender courtesy resignations, to clean the organization in one sweep, after some senior officials were linked to the illegal drug trade.

The police had arrested a sergeant who was found to have kept nearly a ton of illegal drugs, shabu, in a vault at his home. Millions of pesos were also confiscated, suggesting a widespread drug network that could involve many law enforcement agents.

The sweeping action led to some unsettling effects on the ranks of the national police. Many feared that the courtesy resignation request was a witch hunt, purging senior officials whose loyalty to the president was suspect. Some were obviously closely identified with former president Rodrigo Duterte.



Relations between Marcos Jr and Duterte were not perfectly close. Duterte’s allies have been criticizing Marcos Jr’s handling of the war on drugs and anti-Communist campaign. Duterte himself had warned that his political party, the Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), would act as a fiscalizer and would not hesitate to speak out on the government’s wrongdoings.

Marcos has quietly taken action against Duterte by removing his influence in the police and military. He wanted to take full control of both uniformed services.

So why did armed vehicles roll out on a weekend? The problem is not inside Camp Crame but in the opposite Camp Aguinaldo.

Without prior announcement and without fanfare, Lt. Gen. Bartolome Vicente Bacarro was replaced by his classmate, Gen. Andred Centino, who was actually reinstated after five months.

The ceremony was held at the Commissioned Officers’ Club and attended by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin. The acting defense chief, Jose Faustino Jr, skipped the event because he tendered his resignation on the same day.

Faustino said he left his position because he was not informed about the changes in the military leadership. That is probably a half-truth because there were already rumors about Bacarro’s replacement in October when the former executive secretary, Vic Rodriguez, was sacked from his position.

Authorities are more concerned about dissatisfaction in the military than in the national police. The military has more lethal firepower. Two presidents were removed when the military turned against its commander in chief.

The quiet turnover of command at the Camp Aguinaldo officers’ club was seen as more worrisome than the very public demand for police generals and colonels to resign.

Twenty years after Oakwood, the military has changed. There is no visible charismatic leader who can convince fellow officers to rebel against the political leadership.

There are no rallying points. There are not enough reasons to risk careers to create disruptions in the military organization. No, they have not dismounted from their horses and the level of professionalism remained debatable.

There are still selfish personal interests and these could be the starting point of discontent in the military.

It is still uncertain if Centino will be retired next month or will be allowed to stay on for three years until January 2026. The military hated political leaders who extended the services of generals for their own interests.

The late dictator had extended two generals – Romeo Espino and Fabian Ver – at the expense of competent and professional soldiers. As a result, generals started plotting against him.

The dictator sowed discontent in the military. His son should avoid the same mistakes committed by his father. Extending Centino’s services will not do any good. In the first place, Marcos should not have reinstated him.

There’s nothing wrong with the new law granting a fixed three-year tour of duty to senior officials in the military but Marcos should have thought deeply about selecting the next chief of staff.

For a fresh start, he could have asked generals belonging to the PMA Classes 1988 until 1991 to retire quietly after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56 years old.

The next leaders, including the three service commanders – Army, Navy and Air Force – should have come from younger batches of generals, from PMA Class of 1992 and beyond.

They have more time to plan and set the direction of the armed forces. Older generals tend to look forward to their retirement and think about their own golden parachutes, disregarding the military organization.

Marcos should watch his back. The military has no more appetite for adventures but the seeds of discontent have been sowed. Marcos could reap a rotten crop.