Edsa 20/20
20 Filipinos 20 Years after People Power

Raymundo Jarque

‘We returned to democracy, but the practices are undemocratic’

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Photos by Lilen Uy

WE OFTEN think of the lives of military men as nothing less than exciting, and the one led by retired Brig. Gen. Raymundo Jarque does not disappoint, although it had some unexpected and confusing twists. From a young lieutenant assigned to Mindanao to face the Muslim secessionists in the 1970s, he went on to become a military commander fighting a raging communist insurgency in his home province, then a fugitive from justice seeking sanctuary among the very rebels he fought, and later a consultant to them in their peace talks with the government. Had the local film industry not been in the doldrums, there would probably have been a movie based on his action-packed life by now.

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For Jarque, as well as for many other military officers, Edsa 1 was a major turning point. Then already the deputy commander for civil and military operations of the Regional Unified Command No. 3 based in Camp Olivas, Pampanga, he had thrown his support behind the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) in its coup plot against Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Though Marcos had nipped the attempt in the bud, RAM’s withdrawal of support from the government ushered in the four-day people power revolt that eventually toppled the dictatorship.

Jarque and his men were already semi-members of RAM at the time. Having served mostly under Marcos as commander in chief, he, like many of his fellow officers, were unhappy with the military organization. Their grievances sowed the seeds of the reform movement within the military. The early 1980s saw growing resentment within the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), particularly among middle-ranking officers who were graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). These officers balked at the lack of professionalism and corruption they saw among the generals and senior officers, problems that they blamed solely on Marcos.

“We believed that as long as Marcos was still the president and commander in chief, we had no chance to rise up in the military hierarchy,” he says, pointing to Marcos’s penchant for appointing fellow Ilocanos to the AFP top brass to the demoralization of officers like himself who hailed from other regions.

Marcos also subverted the promotions system by extending the terms of his favored generals. Gen. Romeo Espino, for instance, served as AFP chief of staff for nine years from 1972 to 1981.

Edsa 1 caught Jarque in Camp Olivas, where the commanding general, Gen. Isidoro de Guzman, remained loyal to the duly constituted authority, meaning Marcos and the military chain of command. Jarque and many other men in the camp, however, began getting orders from the new AFP commanded by Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos in Camp Crame, even as they continued to extend due courtesy and cooperation to de Guzman.

In the succeeding days, Jarque and his men would secure the Basa airbase in Pampanga in an effort to frustrate the takeover of the 5th Air Fighter Wing by followers of the Marcos loyalist, Gen. Jose Zumel. They also blocked the highways leading to Nueva Ecija and Bulacan, barricading them with trucks to prevent the Marcos forces from coming to Manila. They were not alone: dozens of nuns, priests, and civic leaders helped the soldiers put up the roadblocks.

When the Marcoses fled, and the new government and armed forces had been put in place, Jarque nurtured high expectations. He would not be a part of any of the post-Edsa coup attempts, saying he wanted to give the Aquino government a chance.

The general, who confesses to idolizing the late Sen. Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr. and keeping clippings of his writings, had hoped that the Filipino people, especially those in government, including the military and police, would be jolted out of the culture of patronage, corruption, and abuse that prevailed during the Marcos years. He certainly did not foresee that he would one day be accused of graft himself, or that his son, a West Point graduate and promising young officer, would leave the armed forces in disgust and disillusionment.

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HAD IT not been for what he says was his overpowering love of country, Jarque would have joined the U.S. Navy, just like some of his classmates in his hometown of Isabela, Negros Occidental. Instead, he vied for a slot at the PMA in 1957. He would have been enjoying a sizeable pension today as a U.S. Navy retiree. Now 68, his retirement benefits from his colorful army career are barely enough to support himself and his wife Zenia, who suffers constantly from hypertension. To earn extra income, Jarque has had to look for employment, primarily as a security consultant. Today he has a consultancy with the Philippine National Oil Company-Energy Development Corporation (PNOC-EDC).

But Jarque has few — if any — regrets about how he conducted himself in the military. If he had to flee to the enemy camp after being unjustly sued, it was not because he was guilty, but because he knew the Edsa Revolution had restored only democracy and not much else. As he saw it, the system had merely tilted more toward the privileged, which included his accuser, a rich businessman named Magdaleno Peña.

Jarque says that in 1991, he was accused of stealing a ton of — of all things — prawns from Peña’s fishpond. The general was then head of the Negros Island Command, which had jurisdiction over some of the most feudal, and most rebel-infested, areas in the country. He says he got caught in a vicious family feud: he and his men had merely been helping the Philippine Constabulary implement a court order reinstating Peña’s brother as administrator of their grandmother’s estate.

Magdaleno Peña, an haciendero who had well-placed connections in the government and the military, apparently took it out on Jarque, filing theft, graft and other cases against the general and vowing to send him to Muntinlupa. Suspecting that the scales of justice were tipped against him because the Ombudsman was in Peña’s pocket, Jarque sought asylum in 1995 among the New People’s Army (NPA) in the hills of Negros. Surprisingly, the communists welcomed him to their fold — but not after many months of conducting a check on his background.

“When I finally met Fr. (Frank) Fernandez, the Negros Island NPA commander, I asked how come they’re accepting me. They’d checked and found out that I (was) the only military commander who did not enrich himself while in power, and who (had) only one wife,” he recounts, unable to contain a chuckle. “He said you cannot be a revolutionary if you don’t stand on moral high ground.”

He didn’t get away as easily regarding “Operation Thunderbolt,” the military’s seven-month-long counterinsurgency campaign in 1989 in the CHICKS (Cauayan, Hinobaan, Ilog, Candoni, Kabankalan, and Sipalay) area of Negros Island, home to the first guerrilla front of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). “Thunderbolt” resulted in the massive displacement of 30,000 villagers and the death of about 300 children, including infants.

Jarque explained to his communist hosts that his was a purely military response to the NPA raid on a military outpost in Candoni that killed six of his men and a civilian. He has nonetheless apologized for his role in the operation. But he says he wasn’t really a cruel commander, pointing out, “A lot of times, I would send home the NPA rebels we captured as many of them joined the rebel movement out of a sense of injustice and poverty.”

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“WE HAVE to appreciate the CPP, NPA and NDF (National Democratic Front) for being consistent and sticking it out with their principles,” he says. “They have definite aims, unlike the government…Even our political parties here are not groups of people with the same ideals.”

Jarque, though, says that while he shares the communists’ positions along the lines of social justice and the economy, he hasn’t completely embraced their ideology. He also wants to correct the media reports that his flight to the NPA was a “defection.” At the time, he argues, he was already retired. Had he been still in the active service, his act would have constituted a crime of treason for which he could have been court-martialed.

Today Jarque is a free man because his case was taken up by the government peace panel negotiating with the communists. The ex-general asked only that he be given a fair trial and was allowed to return to normal life. The rebels, in turn, allowed him to go freely.

Up to now, Jarque is a maverick, remaining in touch with his communist friends while securing a government corporation. In 1998, Jarque’s own son, Rene, an army captain, followed a similar path when he opted to leave the military after finding it futile to advocate for reforms from within. Authorities certainly didn’t seem interested in addressing the issue, not even after the media kept uncovering one questionable military deal after another. It took until 2004, and only after the wife of AFP comptroller Gen. Carlos Garcia boasted to U.S. officials how her husband’s “privileges” allowed their family to accumulate wealth, for authorities to finally stir into action. And seemingly, just on that one case.

Long after Marcos has gone, the military remains mired in corruption and partisan politics. If the AFP continues to uphold and defend the constitution, it is seen more in defense of the status quo. Most generals, after all, owe their position to Arroyo, who has taken off where Marcos had left, buying their loyalty with promotions and perks to ensure her own political survival in the face of corruption scandals and the crisis of legitimacy over her election victory in 2004.

Jarque says there ought to be a way to lessen the power of politicians to appoint people to the top positions in the AFP, and in influencing the choice of commanders in both the military and the police. “Anyway, there’s a board of officers to determine fitness and seniority,” he says. “At the very least, the role of our political leaders should only be ministerial.”

But it is on the shoulders of the country’s political leaders that Jarque places most of the blame for the failure to exploit the gains of Edsa 1 for the benefit of the majority. “We returned to democracy,” he says, “but the practices are undemocratic.”

By 2005, all eight cases filed against Jarque had either been dismissed or won by him. His trust in the justice system has been restored. He also believes that most Filipinos still accept democracy as a way of life. But with damaged institutions and tainted processes, he thinks a more radical but enlightened kind of leadership is what the country needs at this time, one he is certain that a desperate people would only be too willing to take chances on. — Alecks P. Pabico