Corruption in the ranks

Courage, Integrity, Loyalty – These three words form the backbone of the Philippine Military Academy. Three words which may seem simple and appropriate guides in the noble profession of arms. Over the past few weeks however, the country has seen several exemplars and distortions of these three words. The nation was witness to the courage of a few, the cowardice of several; the integrity of a handful, and the corruption of a group; the loyalty of some men and women to the uniform and the flag, and the servility of a select group to personal and political interests.

Last week’s revelations on corruption in the Armed Forces of the Philippines by L/Col. George Rabusa and Commission on Audit auditor Heidi Mendoza have shed some light on what had long been rumors and suspicions of ill-gotten wealth and politics of convenience in the armed services. What Rabusa and Mendoza have taken upon themselves as their responsibility to the country is laudable and timely. They have given facts and figures to what many have always suspected to have been happening in the armed forces. Their actions have vindicated Magdalo soldiers and justified their claims of corruption among the brass.

The Aquino administration, in an effort to fight corruption in the armed services, said last week that it is encouraging the men and women in uniform to step forward and report cases of alleged corruption by the their superiors. Now for those who did not spend time wearing the uniform and given the burdens of command, this may seem a welcome development and a step in the right direction. But for those who were and who are in the military, this move by the administration, which encourages soldiers to denounce colleagues and superiors, undermines the very fabric of every military organization since time immemorial – the chain of command.

The chain of command is everything in a military organization. Without its observance and preservation, there would be dissension in ranks, disorganization in the command, and chaos in the service. The possible consequences from encouraging soldiers to rat upon their comrades and their superiors can range from “fragging,” mutinies, and even a coup de’état. Allowing anyone within the chain of command to accuse someone of anything will effectively subvert the armed services. The last instance in history where this was practiced was in Stalin’s Red Army, where the Cheka, and then later the NKVD, encouraged soldiers to report their superiors. The result was the effective elimination of the Russian officer corps, making it easy for Hitler to march up to the Kremlin’s doorstep.

Of course, the talk about eradicating corruption in the military and spit-shining the boots as well as the brass is always easier said than done. Being that the military is a conservative institution, pursuing reforms in the services would be met with silent but firm opposition in some quarters of power. But when those powers are won, and those in soiled uniforms charged and penalized, the rest of the organization will follow. And that would be made possible by the very structure which the Aquino administration might unintentionally destroy: the chain of command.

If the administration would pursue its plans to allow servicemen accuse other servicemen of alleged irregularities, then corruption, which exists in the organization by the apparent misuse of funds by the brass, would be complimented also with another form among the boots. Instead of following their orders and fulfilling their responsibilities, the men and women in uniform would be watching over their shoulder, questioning every command given by superiors, and actively looking at their superiors for actions which can be used to denounce their commanders. Theirs would be corruption in the ranks.

If the Aquino administration and the country’s policy-makers in the Senate and the House of Representatives are bent on curbing if not eradicating corruption in the armed services, then the solution should be proactive instead of reactive. They should address the possible opportunities for corruption, strengthen the military justice system, and properly inculcate in the men and women of the armed services, the values which serve as the motto of the country’s lone military academic institution: courage, integrity, loyalty.