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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Olive-Drab Bureaucrats

Is the civil service being 'militarized?'


AS FIDEL V. RAMOS moves into the final year of his term, Filipinos are already summing up what his presidency has wrought: namely, economic development and political stability. Some might add a third, more ambivalent, legacy: a military-dominated civil service. Since his 1992 election, the retired general has appointed over 90 former soldiers and policemen to top jobs in his administration. They hold not only positions traditionally linked to the military -- like the defense secretary -- but also run departments such as public works, transportation and local government. Even tinpot bureaucracies, such as the Videogram Regulatory Board, are run by ex-top brass.

"That's bad," says Rep. Joker Arroyo, an independent congressman. He distrusts the take-no-prisoners mindset that soldiers bring to the complicated battleground of government. "Military men are trained to fight, attain an objective, defeat an enemy -- all others are secondary," he says. The promotion of army men also resurrects a disturbing memory: During nine years of martial law former President Ferdinand Marcos often gave civilian jobs to military chiefs in exchange for loyalty. One congressman, Jose Zubiri, has filed a bill requiring retired soldiers to wait two years before accepting civilian posts.

Such complaints, says political science professor Alex Magno, smack of "extreme prejudice." He argues that the armed forces "produce talented public servants especially equipped to run complex organizations." Sen. Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan, a former army colonel, puts it more bluntly: When running a bureaucracy, he says, "military men have proven to be more effective."

But the record in government, so far, of retired soldiers appears neither better nor worse than that of private-sector appointees. When a typhoon swept Manila in May, the capital's international airport had to be shut down for two days. The reason? Generators ineptly housed in a basement were inundated. The same week, airport police arrested a businessman for a traffic violation. He later turned up dead -- a victim of foul play, say the National Bureau of Investigation. The airport is run by a retired air force general.

President Ramos, who recently renewed the interim appointment of another ex-general as secretary of transportation, avoids mentioning that the bureaucracy is salted with soldiers. He prefers to say the military is being "civilianized." When the army becomes more engaged with ordinary life, he says, it becomes less radical. And, on the whole, that has "enhanced our democracy." Yes, sir.

-- By Jose Manuel Tesoro and Antonio Lopez / Manila

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