The absurdity of blaming the PMA

In the aftermath of the July 27th mutiny led by young officers, among them the top graduates and the most be-medalled in their batch at the Philippine Military Academy, not a few opinion makers have advanced the proposition that the PMA should be abolished.

The suggestion is that, in producing highly politicized officers who will not hesitate to break the chain of command in the pursuit of dubious goals, the institution has failed.  It has failed because it did not inculcate the correct values in its students, and imbued them instead with an arrogant messianism that has no place in a democratic society.

The idea is absurd.  It proceeds from wrong and dangerous premises. This line of thinking is as persuasive as the argument that some seminaries should be closed down because they have bred a number of deviant priests and bishops.  Or that the University of the Philippines should take responsibility for those among its alumni who have turned out to be oppressive and corrupt leaders of the country. What is overlooked is that the same institutions have also trained patriots, dedicated public servants, honest professionals, and a good number of the nation’s finest citizens.

If institutions must take responsibility, why single out the schools? Why not accuse the families in which these soldiers’ formative years were spent?  Indeed why not confront the whole society and culture, and the period, that shaped them?

This is bad thinking, says the philosopher Nietzsche.  “No one is responsible for simply being there, for being made in such and such a way, for existing under such conditions, in such surroundings.… One is necessary, one is a piece of fate, one belongs to the whole, one is in the whole – there is nothing which could judge, measure, compare, condemn our Being, for that would mean judging, measuring, comparing, condemning the whole.”

One need not totally subscribe to Nietzsche’s view of morality and responsibility to understand what he is saying.  Beyond the conventions set by prevailing morality and law, which are based on the assumption of the individual with free will, it is difficult to pinpoint exact responsibility and allocate blame.  The moment we start looking beyond the individual, in an effort to determine the original culprit, we come face to face with the realization that all of existence must be held accountable, or no one at all.  But, by the same token, Nietzsche also questions the concept of the individual as an autonomous agent, whose actions are caused by certain motives hatched in the mind and driven by the will.   “The so-called ‘motive’: another error.  Merely a surface phenomenon of consciousness, an accessory to the act, which does more to conceal the antecedentia of an act than to represent them.”

So let us forget for a moment the question of who is ultimately responsible for the Oakwood mutiny, and who should be punished. In our culture, and under our legal and political system, after all, this question is not problematic.  The individual offender and the accessories to the offense are to be held accountable.  And, accordingly, the core group led by Navy Lieutenant Senior Grade Antonio Trillanes IV has accepted full responsibility for their actions.

The disquiet in our minds refuses to go away, however, and it will likely remain long after the mutineers have been stripped of their ranks and sent to jail.  We feel an urgent desire to understand why a group of presumably intelligent courageous, and highly decorated young officers should rebel against the military establishment in which they hold promising careers, and against a government they swore to defend.

The explanations have been mostly facile, but then any explanation is better than none.  Some have accused the mutineers of messianism, as if the youthful desire to make a decisive difference in the life of one’s society was something pathological.  Others have depicted them as nothing more than power-grabbers afflicted with the same inflated political ambition as all classical coup plotters in history.  Still others have sought to paint them as nothing more than small-time racketeers, the very negation of the principles they espouse. The whole idea is to portray them as misguided and corruptible monsters who can no longer tell the difference between right and wrong.

But we deceive ourselves in the long run.  The demonization and punishment of the mutineers will not enhance our understanding of the conditions that make incidents like Oakwood possible.  In our guts we know that our nation is in a degenerative state.  And that all the extra-constitutional interventions and mass actions that have filled our political landscape since the late 1960s are symptoms of a desperate need to repair or get rid of a decadent system.  Some of these interventions have succeeded in capturing the state, but all have failed in overcoming a social and political system that over the years has divided and corrupted our people, crippled our economy, and mortgaged the future of our children.

We may condemn, as I do, the use of force to change the way of life of our society.  But we must not forget that we might avoid the armed revolutionary’s cleansing violence as an alternative to peaceful reform only if we can make a firm resolve to take command of our national life, to match the beliefs we mouth with concrete action, and to begin the revolution ourselves in our everyday dealings with government and with one another.


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