The creation of a special military unit to provide security and protection to the vice president sets a very dangerous precedent. There is real danger the military unit will become the vice president’s own private army.
The military is an apolitical organization. It holds no personal loyalty to the president or to any political leader. It is only loyal to the Republic, the flag and the Constitution.
Although the president has a prerogative to name the commander and some key officers in the Presidential Security Guard (PSG), the bulk of the military and police officers who served in the regiment-size elite unit are not handpicked.
The officers and enlisted personnel in the unit are assigned for a certain period and can be reassigned to other military and police units. Very few are handpicked by the president to provide protection to members of his family.
The PSG also takes care of the security, safety and protection of the vice president and past presidents. The vice president and past presidents also have the prerogative to select the people in the unit.
But the PSG is mainly a special military and police unit, part of the larger Armed Forces and National Police that have a mandate to secure the Republic and its citizens, including top leaders of the government.
The president and vice president should not consider the PSG as their private armies because the soldiers and police are trained to be loyal only to the position and not to the persons holding the public position.
Of course, it is difficult to separate personal loyalty from their official and professional work. Many military and police officers, including past and retired members of the PSG, often develop personal relations with presidents and vice presidents and become loyal to the persons.
But this is risky and may create factionalism within the Armed Forces and the National Police. It may lead to a “bata-bata” system, corrupting the uniformed services.
To begin with, there are already too many factions in the Armed Forces and National Police, giving rise to distrust and animosity among the officers’ corps.
For one, graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) lorded over the military and police services, discriminating against officers who were directly commissioned or were in the reserve force as well as graduates of the National Police Avademy.
Most sensitive and juicy positions in both the military and police are occupied by PMA graduates, making other commissioned officers second-class citizens.
The last time a non-PMA graduate was appointed military chief of staff was during the reign of the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
He appointed the late General Romeo Espino, a graduate of the University of the Philippines-Reserve Officer Training Corps (UP-ROTC), as chief of staff in 1972, serving the longest for nine years.
Espino was replaced by the late General Fabian Ver, another UP-ROTC graduate, in 1981 until 1986 when Marcos was removed from power in a military-backed popular uprising.
During the years that Ver was in power, factionalism in the military was very pronounced as he was partial to non-PMA graduates, keeping many senior generals in their positions beyond retirement age and promoting the “bata-bata” system.
The situation gave rise to the formation of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), made up of military officers who graduated from the PMA. Many of these RAM members were serving in the Department of National Defense (DND) under Juan Ponce Enrile and then-Major General Fidel Ramos, the chief of the Philippine Constabulary and the Integrated National Police. RAM was instrumental to the ouster of Marcos in 1986.
Even the enlisted personnel were factionalized as a fraternity of soldiers, known as El Diablo, which was exposed during that time. El Diablo, which was also known as the Guardians Brotherhood, was composed of ordinary soldiers who took care of each other outside the frontlines.
The formation of RAM and Guardians Brotherhood were symptoms of fractious relations within the armed forces, whose members were loyal to senior generals and political powers at that time.
It did not end with the People Power revolt but continued for another four years as a faction in the Armed Forces attempted to seize power several times in more than half-a-dozen coups during Cory Aquino’s presidency.
It took years for the military leadership to professionalize the Armed Forces and dismantle factions within the military and police. The RAM was deactivated and the Guardians Brotherhood was dismantled, and the tattoos on their arms were erased as the government moved to build a cohesive military organization.
The decision to form a special security and protective unit for the vice president is a step backward to the Marcos years, which led to the country’s turbulent period of military adventurism.
There should be no special military unit under any political leader. It is divisive. It could politicize the Armed Forces and promote political patronage. It’s a disaster for the military’s morale and cohesiveness. It will be a big threat to the country and to democracy.