Studying some factors that encourage/deter military takeovers. The example of the Philippines

The military coup in Thailand has raised questions about the stability of the government in other countries of Southeast Asia. Mark Beeson (2008) has also studied civil–military relations in the neighbouring countries to find out whether a similar scenario is possible there.

In the following article I would suggest to have a closer look at the factors, that may encourage or deter military takeovers and to study the situation in the Philippines in more detail.

Among different factors that may influence the probability of a military takeover, one can assume, that the economic development of a country plays the essential role (Alagappa 2001), nevertheless, I would agree with Mark Beeson and emphasize the need to consider the political, as well as historical background.

The hypothesis is formulated as follows: the inner conflict within the Philippines – “terrorism” in the South, in an interplay with ineffective governance and poor financial support of the military – encourages instability and puts the country in danger of a military takeover. I will consider both facts supporting and falsifying this statement.

First of all, according to the Global Competitiveness Report (2010), corruption, inefficient government bureaucracy, inadequate supply of infrastructure and policy instability – are four of the most problematic factors in the Philippines. These issues may be linked to the ineffective inner structure of the country.

Second of all, the “terrorism” on the South of the Philippines is an imminent raising issue, that imposes danger to the relative stability within the country.

To begin with, Muslims were a minority in the Christian Philippines for centuries, which has been neglected by the Christian elite in Manila (the capital of the Philippines). As a consequence, the South of the Philippines, where most of the Muslims had settled, remained and still remains extremely poor in relation to the rest of the country.

Additionally, the decentralized structure of the government in the Philippines, that was promoted by the US during their colonial rule, had worsening effects on the situation in the South. Due to „bossism“ (in which the central state apparatus was subordinated to local strong men) and lack of the central governmental control, crime, drug-selling and etc. have flourished in the Southern regions of the Philippines. Additionally, Zachary Abuza (2003) argues, that “the lack of strong central government control has always attracted Al-Qaida“. In fact, the Philippine state is weak, with weak political institutions, decentralized politics, poor resources, and plagued by endemic corruption, which makes it remarkably vulnerable to terrorism.

Also the Afghan War played an important role in destabilizing the situation in the Philippines. As the USA and the Philippines were allies during the time of the Afghan War, volunteers from the Philippines were sent to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviets. The majority of the volunteers were Muslims and they not only got to know other Muslims in Afghanistan, but also received military training. As a result, separatists in the southern islands of the Philippines can operate with skilled experienced soldiers.

Moreover, radical Muslim groups in the South of the Philippines, such as Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front got financial support from Saudi Arabian and Pakistan Islamic groups (Manalo 2004). This issue has to be studied closer, but the potential danger of the foreign financial support of terrorism is obvious.

On the top of all, it is usually debated how to deter terrorism. In the case of the Philippines, terrorism is tried to be solved with military means. Nevertheless, it is questionable, whether it is a good solution to fight terrorism with the military and whether the presence of the military in this conflict actually encourages or deters the aggression. Thus, the issue remains unsolved and controversial (Manalo 2004).

In this regard, “terrorism” causes serious danger to the inner peace of the country. The government can not stabilize the situation if the separatism reaches a certain extend. In that case, it is only the military, which can bring “peace”. In such a scenario, the military, claiming to bring order, may take advantage of the government.

Third of all, one more fact worth mentioning is that the central government is unable to finance the military. Thus, the government strengthens the connection to the USA, as they provide the Philippine military with their support. One may argue, that in the conditions, when the military lacks financial support, it may desire to take advantage of the governance in order to decide on its finances on its own.

In this regard, the interplay between the danger of raising terrorism and the inefficiency of governance, which includes weak institutions and inability to finance the military, can be seen as a potential excuse for the military to use its “strong hand“ to establish order.

However, further facts need to be considered at this point.

Firstly, the economy of the Philippines is 39th largest economy in the world and is seen as successfully growing (International Monetary Fund 2013). In this regard, one can argue that poverty in the southern islands of the Philippines and the socio-economic inequality within the country may step back: once the conditions of the “separatist” regions are improved, the “terrorism”-issue will be remedied.

Secondly, the military struggles with inner incoherence, where senior figures in the army, who „support“ the separatists, are in conflict with young soldiers, who are disenchanted with corruption.

Thirdly, the Philippine government has tight ties with the USA – a country that supports democracy rather than an authoritarian military regime, which obviously uses its influence in order to keep “democratic” regime in the Philippines, even if it’s fragile and inefficient.

To sum up, the incoherent, inefficient, fragile and corrupted governance in the Philippines, together with such urgent issue as terrorism, seems to be vulnerable to a military takeover. Nevertheless, a growing economy, incoherence within the military and intense influence of the USA, that wants to keep allies in the Southeast Asia, acts as a counterweight.

In this regard, the hypothesis, that the inner conflict within the Philippines – “terrorism” in the South, in an interplay with ineffective governance and poor financial support of the military, encourages instability and puts the country in danger of a military takeover, can be seen as falsified.

Anna Kravets

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