Obey first, regret later

THERE is a tradition in the military service of obeying first and complaining later. As Lord

Tennyson woefully observed in his poem, “Charge of the Light Brigade,” the soldier’s task is “not to reason why but to do and die.” And die millions of them for following orders unfailingly. Those who did not, died in the hands of their own superiors in summary executions.

There is some logic here because the leader is expected to have thoroughly studied or analyzed the situation and made the best decision that in dire circumstances could mean life or death of most. Of course that decision can be difficult to obey if a subordinate did not believe in it or when the subordinate had lost trust in his officers. Mutiny is as frequent as the fighting a war of honor.

Just following orders, had been used as a defense, but this has been junked in many tribunals, military and judicial, because a solider is not bound to obey an apparently illegal order. That is fine from a theoretical point of view but oftentimes the realities on the ground are different and the least resistance is to obey. The proceedings of the Nuremberg, Tokyo and Manila war tribunals are excellent sources of how obeying orders is a defense but the victors decide, as always.

The order of President Duterte to arrest Senator Antonio Trillanes IV is a case in point.

Incumbent military and police officials were ordered to take the senator into custody on the theory that the amnesty granted to the senator for various crimes against the state was null and void ab initio. In the proclamation withdrawing and nullifying the amnesty granted by President Benigno S. C. Aquino III, President Duterte exercised the power to issue an arrest order, an authority as commander in chief under martial law. Then he left for a trip to the Middle East.

That left the officials so ordered without a choice of appeal for clarification. It was “obey first, complain later” situation.

A national debate has ensued on the legality of the Duterte proclamation, but for the officers and men of the PNP and the AFP, and backing them up, the DND, the order requires an examination of conscience. Many believe that the presidential proclamation is illegal and they don’t want to be dragged into the situation. It is a clear political combat between two powerful forces. But obey they must.

In the AFP where Trillanes once belonged, the agony could be much worse than those in the PNP. The PNP will act when so ordered – that is a police task though they are not, on the day of reckoning, be exempt from culpability.

Almost all legal experts outside of government say that the presidential proclamation is illegal and even impeachable offense. The AFP and the Department of National Defense as well as the Department of Justice have no choice but to support the President. If they don’t, then the best option is to resign, but surely they would not unless they are conscientiously convinced of the illegality of the proclamation and would have none of it. Otherwise, their duty is to just obey and perhaps let the chips fall where they may.

There is division in the defense department – those who are still in office and those who designed the Arroyo proclamation. The latter say the amnesty was above board; all the requirements and processes complied with. They have to defend it otherwise they too could be considered liable for a defective amnesty. Not criminally, possibly, but responsible nevertheless. The incumbent DND announced it will convene a general court martial to continue with the proceedings against Trillanes that was aborted with the amnesty. In a way the present conflict shows the political nature of the DND.

The Department of Justice admitted they were not involved in the Duterte proclamation but they have to defend it. DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevara is being challenged and lashed at by legal experts but he has no choice – he is a soldier complying an order even if legal and constitutional luminaries are shredding his argument into tiny bits and pieces. Guevara confuses rather than illuminates.

We are in interesting times but this “war” merely diverts from a bigger problem.

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