The Final Report of the Fact-Finding Commission: I: Coup d’Etat: An Overview




The coup d’etat, or more appropriately, the coup attempt, as a politico-military event is a recent phenomenon in the Philippine political scene. The country experienced its first coup attempt only in February 1986, when members of the Reform the Armed Forces of the Philippines Movement (RAM) tried to stage one against former President Ferdinand E. Marcos. That attempt failed when security forces loyal to President Marcos uncovered the plot. Subsequent events overtook that coup when the people staged the popular People Power Revolt at EDSA and successfully ended Marcos’s rule. That popular revolt confirmed the election victory of and installed Corazon C. Aquino as the duly elected seventh President of the Republic of the Philippines. Barely into its fifth month of governance, the Aquino administration faced the first of seven coup attempts.1 The most recent was the failed coup attempt of December 1989 which the Fact-Finding Commission was tasked to investigate. Even as this Final Report was being written, wild rumors of a possible eighth coup attempt circulated as a spate of bombings upset the peace of metropolitan Manila and sowed fear among its people.

In any event, the coup d’etat has become a hard fact of political life in the Philippines. Gone are the days of a military totally restricted to the barracks or guarding the borders of the State or building roads, bridges and rendering free basic medical and dental services. As will be shown in the succeeding chapters of this Report, notably Chapter II, the Philippine military over the years and particularly under the tutelage of Marcos, developed far beyond those traditional roles.

Local scholarly studies on the subject of military intervention, specifically on coups d’etat, from which the Commission had hoped to draw some ideas for a framework of study, are still relatively few and inadequate. As a phenomenon, however, the coup d’etat has been a recurring experience that has haunted the majority of the states in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa since the 1900s. In these countries, the rise of the military to prominence in the political arena became the obvious outcome of a successful coup. Figures with respect to the number of coup attempts, successful or otherwise, vary from one author to the other. One author counted a total of 311 attempted coups d’etat in some 79 different countries during the period 1945 to 1985, 170 of which were successful,2 at least initially. Put another way, these figures illustrate that “half of the sovereign states represented at the United Nations have experienced an illegal or unconstitutional overthrow of their existing governments (democratically elected or not) at some point in their recent history.”3

Clearly, in global terms, “independent political activity by the armed forces is…frequent, widespread and of long standing.”4 One author has noted that of the 51 states existing in or before 1917, all but 19 experienced coups since 1917; of the 28 created between 1917 and 1955, all but 15 had a coup.5 In subsequent years until 1980, 70 states6 faced a total of 179 coups.7 Thus, a total of 115 states all over the world experienced coups from early 1900 up to the end of the last decade.

By the end of 1980, the total number of states governed by men installed into power by some form of military action numbered 37,8 “representing 25 percent of the world’s 150 independent states and comprising some 55 percent of the population of Latin America, nearly two-thirds of the population of the Arab states of North Africa and the Middle East and a like proportion of the population of sub-Saharan Africa.”9 Notable in these so-called military regimes is the fact that two had chief executives who were civilians, namely: Uruguay, where the military chose to install a certain Dr Apriano Mendez in lieu of President Bordiguerry in 1976, and Iraq, where Saddam Hussein took over from Field Marshall Bakr.10

In 24 of the 37 aforementioned military regimes, executive power is vested in the military as an institution by way of a supreme military council.11 There are neither parties nor legislatures in 15 of these regimes, while single official parties exist in the nine others. These 24 states are said to be stratocracies or “closed bureaucratic regimes with the military in supreme control.”12 As for the other 13 military regimes, they are said to be either mixed civilian-military or wholly civilian, where there is military presence in the Cabinet or an all-civilian Cabinet, respectively, under the leadership of a civilian president installed through a coup.

A. The Phenomenon of the Coup d’Etat

A.1. Coup d’Etat Defined

A coup d’etat is a French word which is more or less synonymous to putsch in German and golpe de estado in Spanish. It is a general term which describes a method of displacing a government or supplanting a regime through the use of military violence.13 A coup d’etat is “a direct seizure of political control by members of the armed forces, who may be acting in concert with civilian allies.”14

A coup d’etat is both a political act and a military action.15 It is the product of a coalition of cliques and groups, usually including both military and civilian elements, who have been preparing for it for a considerable length of time.16 In this period of preparation, various groups of political actors will have been sounded out and their support assured or their opposition neutralized.

As a political act, it is an unlawful means of seizing power from the duly constituted government,17 and employed by the military to replace the political incumbents with themselves or their nominees.

As a military operation, the strategy is naturally of utmost importance.18 Coup plotters need to consider the elements of secrecy, surprise, and the effective tactical neutralization of the possible military and civilian opposition.

Generally, a coup is staged either by the entire armed forces or by a politicized group of military officers who ride on popular grievances among the officer corps against the civilian leadership.19 Politicization is the process by which military personnel acquire and develop political awareness and inclination to assume functions beyond the sphere of activities normally pertaining to the military role of national defense. Its extreme form is when they use the arms and resources entrusted to them against the very people and the state they solemnly swore to defend and protect. Politicization can occur at the institutional, sectional, or individual level.20 In the case of the Philippines, it never had the experience of a coup staged by the entire armed forces. Chapter IV will show that the series of coup attempts against the administration of President Aquino were staged by a highly politicized segment in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

A coup has six distinguishing features. One, it is the effort by a political coalition to illegally replace the existing governmental leaders through violence or the threat of it.21Two, the violence employed is usually small.22 Three, the participants already possess an institutional base of power within the political system.23 Four, a coup does not necessarily need the participation of the masses, or, to a significant degree, the participation of the bulk of the armed forces.24 Five, it does not openly profess any political line or ideology.25 The purpose of this, presumably, is to avoid any form of opposition from any political forces. Six, it does not happen spontaneously.26

A.2. Elements of a Coup

There appears to be five essential elements of a coup, the most important of which are opportunity and motive. As a leading scholar on the military has pointed out, “to intervene the military must have both the occasion and the disposition.”27 The other elements are the military’s capability to intervene, the strategy of the coup plot, and the leaders of the coup.

A.2.a. Coup Motives

No military is likely to intervene in the political affairs of its country if in the first place it has no disposition to intervene. Disposition here refers to a combination of conscious motives and of a will or desire to act.28 Motive is a driving force behind men and women who are prepared to risk imprisonment and whatever consequences there may be, as a result of an unlawful pursuit of political power.29

Motives for military intervention are varied and complicated. No single factor can be easily pointed out as the sole cause for intervention. It is oftentimes a conjunction of motives which cause the military to intervene in domestic politics. Chapter VII deals with coup factors as they relate to the December 1989 failed coup attempt.

The usual motives of the military for intervention are the “national interests” as perceived and defined by the officer corps, middle-class interests with which the military generally identifies, institutional or corporate interests of the armed forces, regionalistic, ethnic or particularistic interests, and personal interests of some military coup plotters.30 These motives are discussed in the subsequent sections of this chapter under factors affecting military intervention.

A.2.b. Coup Opportunity

Opportunity refers to the precise occasion of launching a coup. It is the product of some kind of rational calculation before the coup is staged.31 It includes the presence of necessary conditions for a successful coup. These conditions can either be created or, if they exist naturally, exploited to the advantage of the coup.32

The conditions which engender opportunities for mutinous military to intervene33 are war time, when there is civilian dependence on the military, an overt domestic crisis like a civil war, a latent or chronic crisis like a continuing insurgency or prolonged economic distress, and a vacuum in national leadership. Under these conditions, the military is more likely to play a major and highly visible role. Discussion of these conditions in general, is done in the latter part of this chapter, and with respect to the December 1989 coup attempt in particular, in Chapter III.

A.2.c. Capability for Military Intervention

The armed forces have three decidedly overwhelming political advantages over civilian organizations: a marked superiority in organization, highly emotionalized symbols, and a monopoly of the instruments for legal violence.34 These three elements constitute the political strengths of the military, and underscore its capability for intervention in politics. In addition, the military has certain distinct organizational characteristics which make it behave like a machine. These characteristics are discussed in Section B.1.a.

The highly emotionalized symbols generate political strength. The military exacts observance in its rituals and traditions. The newcomers or recruits are indoctrinated to respect the insignia, merit medals, banners, colors, and other physical manifestations of military traditions and rituals. As these traditions are indoctrinated to inculcate a sense of “service to the nation” among soldiers, they become the symbols of their patriotic deeds and ideals. These symbols oftentimes give the military an idea that everything it does is for the interest of the nation. These also tend to enhance military cohesiveness and camaraderie. Thus, in instances where soldiers are caught in conflict with other soldiers, they invoke camaraderie in settling the conflict.

But the most formidable strength of the military which underscores its capability for intervention is its monopoly of the instruments for legal violence. In instances of conflicts and disagreements, the threat or the use of force may determine the outcome.

A.2.d.Coup Strategy

The degree of success of a coup is sometimes measured on the basis of the extent of bloodshed. One author claims that “the more bloodless a coup, the more successful it is.”35 Other scholars measure its degree of success by the number of hours or days that lapsed before the coup leaders took full control of the government. In effect, the least time spent in seizing government control, the more successful a coup. The real barometer of success ultimately lies in the effective capture of political, power by the coup plotters.

Basically, the three prerequisites for success of a coup are secrecy, surprise, and the neutralization in various ways of the bulk of the armed forces.36

To preserve secrecy, the coup conspirators do not seek the complicity of the entire armed forces.37 The ideal size of the coup conspirators is just large enough to be able to undertake the simultaneous seizure of all crucial targets which include infantry and armored assets, military aircraft, power centers, and all types of communication installations.

The element of surprise is observed by the execution of the coup with optimum speed and coordination. Any error in terms of coordination and miscalculation in speed may allow the government to consolidate its forces and mount resistance to the coup forces.

The element of neutralization includes not only neutralizing the police and the military who are not part of the coup plot, but also the various political forces. These political forces such as political parties, non-government organizations, sectional interests, regional, ethnic and religious groupings, may also protect the government against the coup.

In the context of a coup, neutralization does not necessarily mean the annihilation of its opponents but the imposition of a condition of temporary impotence.38 Hence, to effectively neutralize the political forces, two rules are usually observed by the coup plotters. First, the coup propagandists generally exploit issues that do not antagonize or at least minimize opposition from political forces. Second, maximum speed is observed to temporarily force these political forces who will be caught by surprise into passivity. A delay in the carrying out of the coup plot may allow these political forces to consolidate and organize collective opposition to it.

On the other hand, the neutralization of the bulk of the armed forces may well depend on the crucial targets seized. Communication channels are considered of critical importance for the propaganda and psychological warfare of the coup leaders. Air force assets and armored tanks, if effectively seized, can neutralize the movements of other military forces who are not part of the coup plot. Influential military officers are considered crucial targets for their potential in resisting a coup. To neutralize these officers, they should be seized either in order of importance or simultaneously.39

The nature and quality of recruitment of the military coup supporters and the timing of the day the coup is to be carried out are also crucial factors which may determine the outcome of the coup.

The nature of recruitment may pose a risk to the coup in terms of secrecy and security. Any individual targeted to be recruited may either be a supporter of the coup or an informer of the enemies of the coup. To avert any possibility of recruiting an informer, the three considerations which are usually observed by coup recruiters are links of friendship or camaraderie with the planners of the coup, shared political beliefs and convictions, and family, ethnic and clan links with those planning the coup.40 Furthermore, the nature of the recruitment may take the form of any of the following: senior military coup plotters will deceive their men as to what exactly they are going to do; appeal their causes to them by citing anomalies and misconduct of some government officials; or, they would simply threaten them.

The quality of recruits has also often been underscored. The plotters usually recruit the active participation of strategically situated middle-level troop commanders — officers who command infantry or armor battalions stationed in or near the capital city. They also recruit pilots of helicopter gunships or other air assets. The credibility of recruited officers is an important factor in convincing others to support or counter the coup.

The timing of the coup is critical to its success. For instance, at a time when the military security measures against coup plots have become lax, coup leaders have the strategic advantage. The coup also has the advantage when it is launched at a time when there is a serious political issue that ignites widespread criticism of the government.41

A.2.e. Coup Leaders

A coup is staged by a group of politicized military officers who ride on popular grievances against the civilian government. But because they are able to exploit certain military and national issues, the coup plotters secure sympathy and support from some idealist military officers. These politicized military officers, who usually are not at the helm of military authority and command, are, as in most cases, driven by personal reasons. The idealist officers, on the other hand, believe that whatever they do are in the best interest of the nation.

Aside from politicized military officers, coup conspirators would also often include civilian individuals. The coup-related experiences of many Latin American countries reveal that some civilian politicians, mostly belonging to the opposition parties, also lent “support” to military coup plotters, or had directly participated in the coup. Military coup leaders listen to the advice of these politicians, count on them for assistance in justifying the coup before public opinion, and solicit their support in running the country if the coup succeeds.42

Politicalized military officers are usually composed of middle-ranking officers from the level of captain to lieutenant colonels who do not yet participate extensively in the usual channels of decision-making, and others who hold grievances against top military officers and/or political leaders.43 These officers are noted to be more effective in seeking the obedience of their subordinates because of the fact that they exercise the most direct authority over the latter.

It has been noted that the advantage of middle-ranking officers over their senior commanders in seeking the obedience of their soldiers is more pronounced once the military is highly politicalized.44 In such conditions, these officers attain considerable independence such that their senior commanders usually cannot force them to counter or support a coup.

B. Theoretical Explanations for the Occurrence of Coup d’ Etat

The frequency of military seizures of power through coup d’etat all over the world has spawned many divergent interpretations concerning their causes. From among these views, there appear two general perspectives which seem to encapsulize factors affecting the occurrence of a coup. The first comes from those social scientists who theorize that factors attributable to the military organization are the significant causes of a coup. The second perspective comes from those who believe that societal factors which are external to the military more directly affect the likelihood of a coup d’etat than do the organizational attributes of the military.

Some scholars have warned, however, that internal or societal factors should not be emphasized to the exclusion of the other. This warning seems to have enough merit, as the experiences of many Third World countries consistently show an interplay of these factors. Conversely, no single factor, whether societal or attributable to the military organization, can be claimed as the sole cause for the occurrence of a coup.

In view of this, we have here divided the theories explaining the coup into (1) those attributable to the military organization, and (2) those external to the military. A third, the “contagion” theory45 is discussed separately.

B.1. Theories Attributing Coup Causes to Factors Internal to the Military Organization

The military has basic attributes which can be transformed into formidable political strengths against any civilian political force, including the civilian leadership. These military attributes include certain characteristics inherent in the military organization, the mission and role perception of the members of the armed forces, and certain military variables affecting the integrity and self-image of the soldiers.

B.1.a. Organizational Characteristics

The armed forces has certain inherent organizational features which are believed to be essential in the pursuit of the accomplishment of the military’s traditional mission of protecting the country from any form of foreign aggression. These organizational features are centralized command, military discipline, hierarchy, formalized internal communication, esprit de corps, and the possession of the means for the legitimate use of violence.46

The centralization of command in the entire armed forces is a purposive creation because only through it can the military act as a single unit and hence, achieve its mission with a high degree of efficiency. This centralized command is evident in the observance of the military chain of command where the lowest or most junior officer is linked to the highest commanding officer in the military.

The hierarchical order of the military organization is also observed as enabling the entire armed forces to act as a single fighting unit. An officer of certain military rank is obliged to render explicit obedience to any officer who has a higher rank.

All members of the armed forces, from the highest to the lowest ranking official, are subject to military discipline. Any violation of, or deviation from, military standard functions has its corresponding punishment in the military. Since the military chain of command is considered as sacrosanct in the organization, and the entire military is oriented to act as a single body, military discipline is oftentimes meant as absolute obedience to the orders of superior officers. This particular trait among many military men prompted numerous scholars to liken the military to a machine which normally behaves in a fairly predictable manner.47

Internal communication in the military, such as signal systems and military codes, is also an essential factor in effectively carrying out its functions. Coordination and precision in military operations are greatly enhanced by this internal communication system which is independent of civil authorities.

A distinct characteristic that the military possesses as formidable is its monopoly of the instruments for legal violence. By virtue of its mission, the military alone is given the legal authority to carry, maintain, and use arms and weapons.

However, these characteristics of the military organization can effectively work against the very government which maintains it. This is particularly true in Third World countries, where the military has been assigned another role, that of maintaining internal peace and order. In these countries, the distinctive organizational features of the military can strongly affect its propensity to intervene in the political affairs of the nation.48 The machine-like nature of the military, for instance, has often been exploited during coups d’etat.

B.1.b. Mission and Role Perception of the Military

In many developed states in the West, the traditional mission of the military has been the protection of the state against foreign military aggression. The external security of the nation has been its sole responsibility. In Third World states, however, the mission of the military has been expanded to include internal security, that is, the maintenance of peace and order threatened by internal insurgencies. In these countries, the involvement of the military in internal pacification inherently arid inevitably brings it into political disputes.49 In fact, it has often been hypothesized that the likelihood of military intervention in the political affairs of the nation rises should the armed forces become heavily involved in domestic, police-type, or counter-insurgency activities50. Furthermore, military interference is likely to occur when the armed forces are ordered, contrary to the advice of the officer corps, to use coercion against domestic opponents of the government, or to enforce unpopular governmental decisions.51 The military’s neutrality and subordination to the civilian government are strained because the military becomes not the defender of the state but an instrument of its political leadership.

Also, in Third World nations, the military has often been used by its government as an arm in national development efforts. Governments of these countries believe that in the absence of actual external threat, the military organization, its efficiency, and manpower can become a formidable support in nation-building. Social scientists have theorized that as civic action projects absorb the attention and expertise of the military, these programs lessen the likelihood of military intervention.52 The military becomes too preoccupied with these programs that it does not have the time to plot against the government. On the other hand, there are officers who feel it is not their duty to get involved in some types of development programs.

The possibility of military intervention may also arise when military officers alter their mission — when they think of the military as the ultimate custodian of national interests. They then consider it their duty to arbitrate the political disputes or veto decisions of civilian authorities.53 This was the experience of Thailand, Nigeria, Peru, Egypt, and many Latin American countries, where coups were mounted by officers who viewed their responsibility as guardians of the state.54

In essence, it is not the mission that pushes the military to intervene. Rather, it is how the officer corps defines and interprets the mission of the armed forces which may give rise to the phenomenon of military interference in the political arena.

B.1.c. Military Variables

Military variables are certain characteristics which vary from one soldier to another, from one service command to another, or such characteristics which may differentiate the entire armed forces of a country from the military of another country. The variability of these characteristics, that is, whether they are high or low in degree in a particular military, may directly or indirectly affect the propensity of the military to intervene in or abstain from the political affairs of the nation. Military variables include military cohesion or the unity of military personnel, professionalism, autonomy on certain military policy matters, corporate interests, the level of political awareness of the officer corps and the extent of foreign military assistance.

B.1.c.i. Cohesion

The degree of cohesion or unity among military personnel, whether it is high or low, may pose a threat to the civilian government. A military with a high degree of cohesion has a greater capacity to intervene in domestic politics.55 On the other hand, a successful coup by a military with a low degree of cohesion is likely to experience countercoups from other groups within the military. This is validated by studies of numerous coups in self-divided militaries of Syria, Iraq, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina.56

It should be noted, however, that the military, or a faction in it, does not intervene or attempt to seize political leadership by reason of military cohesion alone. Besides, cohesion is not a reason for staging a coup. Rather, it is a factor which helps promote the success or likelihood of a coup, or of a countercoup. At most, it is contributory to such occurrence.

B.1.c.ii. Professionalism

Military professionalism exists when “the conduct of warfare is given over to men who have committed themselves to a career of service, men who are recognized for their expertise in the means of warfare.”57 Three of its essential ingredients are expertise, social responsibility, and corporateness.58 Military men are technicians in the management of legal violence. They feel a deep sense of responsibility to their client, the state, which may be seen in basic military codes like “duty, honor, country.”59 They have their own powerful corporate tradition and organization.

Many claim that professionalism in the army is the most decisive factor in keeping the military out of politics. However, there were cases where armed forces with high levels of professionalism became involved in the seizure of political power60 such as the German and Japanese cases. Also, the Royal Thai military was relatively high in terms of professionalism but nonetheless, it staged a coup in November 1971.61

Consequently, some scholars were prompted to include a fourth requisite to military professionalism — adherence to the principle of supremacy of civilian authority over the military at all times. One author even claims that the willingness of the military to submit to civilian authority is a very crucial element of military professionalism.62 Another scholar says that respect for the chain of command is a characteristic of military professionalism.63 By this definition, armed forces with a high degree of professionalism would not intervene in domestic politics.

B.1.c.iii. Autonomy

Military institutions always claim the right to exercise autonomy in their internal organization and operations. The sphere of military autonomy includes strategy, tactics, logistics, assignment, and promotion of its men.64 This issue of military autonomy should be dealt with care and understanding by the civilian leadership because the military is very jealous of its corporate status and privileges. In fact, anxiety to preserve its autonomy is one of the most powerful motives for military intervention.65

A high degree of autonomy may place the military in an aggressive position. It can lead the military to consider itself as the ultimate judge on all matters affecting the armed forces, in which case, it can place the civilian leadership in constant threat of military intervention.66 On the other hand, a low degree of autonomy may put the military in a defensive position where it may consider certain policy decisions of the government affecting it as interference in its internal affairs. Abrupt shifts in policies, particularly alterations perceived to threaten its corporate interests, prerogatives, and values may cause tensions in civil-military relations. Thus, changes or intentions to alter the military areas of decision-making against its advice or desires are likely to encourage military intervention.67

B.1.c.iv. Corporate Interest

The military is a corporate body with corporate interests.68 As used here, “corporate” does not refer to a juridical personality, but to a distinct collective body with rules, interests, and traditions especially peculiar to the group.

Operationally, this corporate interest reflects itself in demands for bigger budgets, better pay, adequate equipment, and other material resources, in intense opposition to the creation of any rival armed forces like workers’ militia or presidential guards, and in a determination to have a say in public policy-making.69 The last is particularly marked among militaries which have not fought a war for a long time, and are unlikely to do so in the immediate future. Such militaries actively search for a new role, and find it in a claim to participate in the development of the nation such as in the cases of the Central African Republic in 1966 and Algeria in 1965.70

When a government fails to cater to corporate interests of the military, officers will be more inclined to intervene. While it is not always an immediate cause of intervention, government neglect of the military contributes to a general sense of alienation.71 Military intervention in Indonesia in the mid-1950s and in Thailand in 1976 took place against such a background.

B.1.c.v. Political Awareness

Political awareness is the level of understanding of an individual of the different issues in society, and the self-assessment of this individual’s capability to address or contribute to the solution of these issues. The political awareness of the soldier is greatly affected by the socio-economic-political conditions of the area where he is assigned. This is especially true among Third World countries where the role of the military has been expanded to include security from internal subversion. In these countries, the soldier finds himself directly immersed with the civilian populace, and is thus exposed to their daily problems. Political awareness might lead him to question why he fights his fellow citizens.

The content of military education and training may also affect the political awareness of the soldiers, especially the officer corps. A military education that includes political issues traditionally resolved by politicians would tend to increase the likelihood of military intervention.72 Education and training patterned after or influenced by Western models give military personnel a developmental perspective where they see themselves as agents of modernization.73 They begin to believe that modernization is part of their mission.

One author has provided two reasons for this modern outlook among soldiers.74 First, officers, especially in the militaries of Third World states, look outside for their models, and are therefore extremely sensitive to the needs of modernization and technical advancement.

Second, militaries are rival institutions. The primary task of the military is to fight wars, and therefore it always wants to be better equipped than the armies of other countries, particularly neighboring ones.

The perception of the military as a modernization catalyst has political consequences for the nation. In fact, in Third World countries, a military with a high level of political awareness that sees itself as an agent of modernization, is more likely to interfere in political affairs. Military domination of the government may, it is argued, have beneficial effects on the economy and improve the prospects of social reform. This appears to have been the experience in Turkey with a military that was modernized by a colonial administration ahead of other sectors. However, this may not be the rule. The extent to which the military becomes an agent of modernization depends on the level of its modernization relative to the other sectors of society. Officers who hold a modern outlook are usually a minority in the armed forces.75

A noted scholar on the military has claimed that in terms of modernization, the role of the military changes as society changes.76 In an oligarchical society, the soldier is a radical; in a middle-class dominated society, he is a participant and arbiter; and in a mass society, he becomes the conservative guardian of the existing order.77 Understandably, the more backward a society, the more progressive its military; the more advanced a society, the more conservative and reactionary its military.

In the Middle East after World War II, the soldiers played a modernizing role after seizing power in Syria in 1949, in Egypt in 1952, and in Iraq in 1958.78 In Brazil and Argentina in the 1950s, however, and then in Bolivia, Guatemala, and Honduras in the 1960s, the military played a more conservative role.

A high level of political awareness among soldiers has often been pointed out as a cause “for military intervention in politics. On the surface, it would seem that a high degree of political awareness works against the government and in favor of coup plotters. On closer look, however, a distinction should be made. High ranking officers with a high degree of political awareness may work within the system because they have enough influence to achieve their goals.79 Junior and middle-ranking officers with limited access to and influence on the policy-making process are the ones very much vulnerable to the idea of military intervention. In fact, coup plots have more often been initiated by middle-ranking officers.80 Foreign Military Assistance

Foreign military assistance, in the form of military training, scholarships abroad, and transfer of military technology, affects the self-image of the military. This may lead the military to view itself as the most modern sector in society and may tempt it to aspire for a broader political role.81 On the other hand, it can be a source of frustration, given the government’s inability to provide them with resources comparable to their foreign peers. It is also a source of demoralization when the benefits of foreign assistance, particularly training abroad, are perceived to be unfairly distributed.

B.2.Theories Attributing Coup Causes to Factors External to the Military Organization

As noted above, certain societal factors tend to encourage a coup d’etat. Some scholars contend that external factors particularly those attributable to the government, affect the occurrence of a coup more directly than factors internal to the military. One author, stressing the greater significance of societal factors, even claims that “there are no bad soldiers, only bad governments.”82 This view of singularly attributing all causes to the government overlooked relevant lessons from other countries. As discussed in this chapter, no single factor may be claimed as the sole cause of a coup, rather, it is an interplay of organizational and societal factors.

B.2.a. Political Factors

A noted scholar on the military has pointed out that “the most important causes of military intervention in politics are not military, but political and reflect not the social and organizational characteristics of the military establishment but the political and institutional structure of the society.”83 When political institutions are weak and fragmented that no group or political faction exercises clear control and leadership, the military usually intervenes. The military mind abhors a vacuum of leadership and feels impelled to fill it. Where such a vacuum exists and there are no “legitimate and authoritative methods for reconciling conflicts,”84 a praetorian society emerges. In such a polity, the coercive power of the military enables it to come out on top. Quoting Thomas Hobbes, one author points out that “when nothing else is turned up, clubs are trumps.”85

Indeed, the military had often argued that they only intervene when civilian governments are unable to govern effectively. A failure of governance and consequent political instability may lead to a perceived loss of legitimacy providing coup plotters with both the opportunity and motive for intervention. The coups in South Vietnam in 1963, in Laos in 1959 and 1960, in Burma in 1958, and in Thailand in 1976, all occurred after the civilian governments were perceived to have failed.86

The perceived failure of a government to govern effectively is, however, not the only political factor which may affect the military’s attitude to intervene. Other political factors are the historical origins of the military, its level of politicization, government policies affecting the military, influence of the political Left, the popularity of the armed forces, and superpower interest as an international factor.

B.2.b. Economic Factors

In most Third World countries, a coup has been consistently preceded by a deep crisis or deterioration in the economic conditions of the people in general. It is not established, however, that a deep economic crisis would always trigger a coup. What is apparent is that the likelihood of military intervention rises when there is a perceived deterioration of economic conditions, especially if accompanied by a belief that the government cannot resolve, or is responsible for, such deterioration. 87 The experiences of Latin American countries and many African states tend to validate this claim.

When the economic crisis becomes acute, the country usually experiences high inflation, increasing unemployment and poverty, among others. These conditions create a restive atmosphere among labor unions, farmers, public utility drivers, students, and other political forces. These usually constitute the preconditions of a coup. In Indonesia, the failure of the “guided democracy” under President Sukarno to ensure a stable government and economic growth became one of the factors which caused the 1965 coup. In the abortive coup in Thailand in September 1985, economic issues were advanced as the main justification.88 Such was the case also of Argentina, where economic growth and stability was cited as the military’s justification for the coups in 1966 and 1976.89 The military is also provided powerful motives by the business community to intervene in domestic politics. When political tensions rise because of unfavorable economic developments, the business community often looks to the military as the only dependable domestic ally capable of protecting their investments and preserving an environment favorable to economic progress. Thus, private investors curry favor with military leaders while foreign capitalist governments provide not only economic aid but also military assistance.90

B.2.c. Socio-Cultural Factors

Military officers tend to share the broader interests of the middle class as a whole and to reflect the grievances of that class.91 Although military officers do not always have middle-class origins, their status as officers puts them into that class. They also usually marry into middle-class families. A government which fails to satisfy middle-class interests can thus often expect to face opposition not only from the middle class in general but from the officer corps of the military in particular. In fact, coups have often taken place after civilian governments have failed to meet the expectations of the educated urban middle class, especially its demand for economic progress.92 Some examples of military intervention initially welcomed by the middle class were those in Indonesia in 1965-66, in Kampuchea in 1970, and in Thailand in 1976-77.

Since soldiers are members of society, they have their own social and cultural characteristics which may be different and distinct from other social or cultural aggrupations. In times where social conflicts become intense and numerous, the soldiers can in no way be spared. Sometimes, individual elements in the military even become vocal partisans in such issues as ethnic tensions, class divisions, regional differences, and cleavages based on education, language, or religion.93 When a point is reached where violence is resorted to by any of the contending civilian groups, military intervention is very likely to take place.94

B.2.d. Psychological and Personal Factors

In general, there are four psychological factors which tend to encourage military intervention in domestic politics. These are the military’s self-awareness of its overwhelming power or capacity to intervene, heroic complex which may take concealment in some messianic idealistic mission, morbid obsession with power, and a sense of frustration among soldiers on certain matters affecting the military.

The military’s self-awareness of its overwhelming capacity to intervene95 can be attributed to the characteristics which the military organization has. This factor alone does not lead to military intervention in politics.

The mission and training of the soldiers usually promote an intense kind of nationalism which turns into a display of military heroism. Military medals are not merely decorative. They carry a message of heroism — the more bemedalled an officer, the more heroic he appears among his peers. This tendency towards a heroic complex becomes more pronounced when they are politicized because they picture themselves as puritanically clean, honest, and sincere in their service to the nation, while perceiving the civilian political leaders as the opposite. Such officers assume a messianic mission to save the nation from the machinations of certain political leaders.

A sense of frustration among soldiers, on the other hand, may arise when the self-esteem of the military has been gravely affected, or when it suffers humiliation on certain issues. Such was the case of Egypt when the pride of the army was gravely wounded and which led to military action in 1948.96 In an extreme case, any kind of imagined affront to its pride may spark military intervention.97 An illustrative case is the 1943 coup in Argentina where the military displayed contempt for civilian authority. The Argentine military felt “vicarious shame” over the corruption in government, the country’s dependence on the United States and the ill-equipped status of the army. The rebel officers felt that because of all these, the army lost face.98

Frustration among soldiers can also be attributed to the idealism among officers, especially among the junior level, and a defective promotion system. One author has claimed that some military men who intervened were motivated by high ideals of public service.99 During the 1960s and 1970s, for instance, Latin American officers were not only more ambitious for themselves and their nation, but were also more frustrated by repeated economic deterioration and instability.100 The promotion system is particularly sensitive to the military because of its hierarchical structure and the extreme difficulty of recovering lost seniority. Military officers who find peers whom they believe are inferior being promoted ahead of them are vulnerable to recruitment. They may look to military adventurism as a form of protest or restitution.

There are also personal factors which may prompt soldiers to rebel against the government. Among them is their desire to improve their military career, benefits, and privileges, believing that when the coup succeeds they would receive these improvements. Another is personal grievances against certain leaders in the military or in the government. In Argentina, Bolivia, and a number of African countries, some officers participated in coups due to personal factors.

B.3. The “Contagion” Theory

The “contagion” theory states that a successful coup breeds other coups, either in the same government or in neighboring states. From the definition, it is obvious that the coup may occur either at the inter-governmental or the intra-military levels.

The “contagion” theory claims that a successful seizure of political control in a country may cause a chain reaction in other nations with a similarly dissatisfied military.101 The occurrence of a coup at the inter-governmental level is influenced by at least two factors:102 the personal links among military officers in different countries that have coup experiences, and the extent of interstate ties. This was the experience of many African states.

The “contagion” theory also claims that the military is not a monolithic unit, but is divided by political allegiance, sectional interest, generational gap, ethnic composition, inter-service rivalry, religion, and recruitment source. In a coup at the intra-military level, the success of one faction in staging a coup may prompt other factions in the military to counter or emulate those who have succeeded in seizing power. The numerous coups in self-divided armies of Iraq, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina clearly demonstrate this.

In succeeding chapters, we will discuss how the virus of military interventionism infected the AFP.


(1) The first coup attempt against the Aquino administration was staged by civilians and military elements loyal to the deposed President Marcos by taking over the Manila Hotel in July 1986. Subsequent attempts were the November 1986 “God Save The Queen” plot, the January 1987 GMA-7 attempt, the April 1987 Black Saturday incident, the July 1987 takeover plot at the Manila International Airport, the August 1987 and the December 1989 attempts.

(2) Gregor Ferguson, Coup d’Etat: A Practical Manual (Dorset: Arms and Armor Press, 1987), p. 11.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Samuel E. Finer, The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics (Boulder: Westview Press, 1988), p. 4.

(5) Ibid., p. 2.

(6) The number includes 22 states that witnessed 27 military interventions in various forms during the period 1958-1962, as discussed by ibid., pp. 1-2.

(7) Ibid., p. 223.

(8) As cited by ibid., the 37 states are Algeria, Argentina, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Burundi, Burma, Chile, Congo Republic, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Indonesia, Iraq, Korea, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Madagascar, Niger, Pakistan, Paraguay, Rwandi, El Salvador, Somalia, Sudan, Surinam, Syria, Thailand, Togo, Turkey, Upper Volta, Uruguay, Yemen Arab Republic and Zaire, p. 257.

(9) Ibid., p. 223.

(10) Ibid., p. 257.

(11) Ibid., p.263.

(12) Ibid.

(13) Ibid., p. 139.

(14) Claude E. Welch, Jr and Arthur K. Smith, Military Role and Rule Perspectives on Civil-Military Relations (North Scituate, MA: Duxbury Press, 1974), pp. 8-32.

(15) Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), p. 218.

(16) Ibid.

(17) Ferguson, op. cit., p. 13.

(18) Huntington, op. cit., p. 219.

(19) National ROTC Alumni Association, Inc. (NARAA), “The Philippine Coup d’Etat and NARAA Resolution No. 7.” (Metro Manila: NARAA, 21 February 1989), p. 3.

(20) Viberto Selochan, “Professionalization and Politicization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” (Doctoral Diss., Australian National University, March 1990), pp. 21-25.

(21) Huntington, op. cit., p. 217.

(22) Ibid.

(23) Ibid.

(24) Edward Luttwak, Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), p. 27.

(25) Ibid.

(26) Ferguson, op. cit., p. 12.

(27) Finer, op. cit., p. 20.

(28) Ibid.

(29) Ferguson, op. cit., p. 12.

(30) Finer, op. cit., pp. 28-53.

(31) Ibid.

(32) Ferguson, op. cit., p. 12.

(33) Finer, op. cit., pp. 64-76.

(34) Ibid., p. 5.

(35) Ibid., p. 226.

(36) Ibid.

(37) Ibid.

(38) Ferguson, op. cit., p. 77.

(39) Ibid., p. 43.

(40) Luttwak, op. cit., p. 75.

(41) FergusonT op. cit., p. 42.

(42) Martin C. Needier, “Political Development and Military Intervention in Latin America,” American Political Science Review. Vol. 60, No. 3 (1966), p. 621.

(43) NARAA, op. cit., p. 6.

(44) Ibid., p. 3.

(45) Claude E. Welch, Jr, Soldier and State in Africa (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970), p. 32.

(46) Finer, op. cit., pp. 5-11.

(47) Luttwak, op. cit., p. 21.

(48) Finer, op. cit., p. 5.

(49) Welch, Jr and Smith, op. cit., p. 10.

(50) Ibid.,p. 11.

(51) Ibid., p. 10.

(52) Ibid.

(53) Finer, op. cit., p. 31.

(54) Welch, Jr and Smith, op. cit., p. 236.

(55) Ibid., p. 11.

(56) Finer, op. cit., pp. 226-229.

(57) Morris Janowitz, The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1960), p. 6.

(58) Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State: Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations (New York: Vintage Books, 1957), pp. 8-18.

(59) Muthiah Alagappa, “Military Professionalism and the Development Role of the Military in Southeast Asia,” in J. Soedjati Djiwandono and Yong Mun Cheong, eds., Soldiers and Stability in Southeast Asia (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1988), p. 16.

(60) Finer, op. cit., pp. 20-22.

(61) Welch, Jr and Smith, op. cit., p. 93.

(62) Alagappa, op. cit., p. 17.

(63) Carolina G. Hernandez, “The Philippine Military in the 21st Century,” in F. Sionil Jose, ed., A Filipino Agenda For The 21st Century (Manila: Solidaridad Publishing House, 1987), p. 237.

(64) Carolina G. Hernandez,”Reforming the Military and Police Agencies in the Philippines, “Philippine Journal of Public Administration, Vol. 32 (January-April 1988), pp. 153-162.

(65) Finer, op. cit., p. 41.

(66) Ibid.

(67) Welch, Jr and Smith, op. cit., p. 27.

(68) Alan Wells, “The Coup d’Etat in Theory and Practice: Independent Black Africa in the 1960s,” American Journal of Sociology (1985), p. 880.

(69) Finer, op. cit., pp. 237-238.

(70) Ibid.

(71) Harold Crouch, “The Military and Politics in Southeast Asia,” in Zakaria Haji Ahmad and Harold Crouch, eds., Military-Civilian Relations in Southeast Asia (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 290.

(72) Welch, Jr and Smith, op. cit., p. 21.

(73) Janowitz, op. cit., p. 81.

(74) Lucian Pye, “Armies in the Process of Political Modernization,” in John J. Johnson, ed., The Role of the Military in Underdeveloped Countries (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1966), pp. 68-89.

(75) Crouch, op. cit., p. 306.

(76) Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies, op. cit., p. 221.

(77) Ibid.

(78) Ibid., p. 203.

(79) Welch, Jr and Smith, op. cit., p. 21.

(80) NARAA, op. cit., p. 7.

(81) Welch, Jr and Smith, op. cit., p. 18.

(82) Ferguson, op. cit., p. 195.

(83) Huntington. Political Order in Changing Societies, op. cit., p. 194.

(84) Ibid., p. 196.

(85) Ibid.

(86) Ibid., p. 295.

(87) Welch, Jr and Smith, op. cit., p. 26.

(88) Alagappa, op. cit., p. 23.

(89) Wells, op. cit., p. 219

(90) Ibid., p. 299.

(91) Ibid., p. 292.

(92) Ibid.

(93) Welch, Jr and Smith, op. cit., pp. 24-26.

(94) Ibid.

(95) Finer, op. cit., p.54.

(96) Ibid.

(97) Ibid., pp. 59-60.

(98) Ibid., p. 60.

(99) Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies, op. cit., p. 193.

(100) Wells, op. cit., p. 240.

(101) Welch, Jr, Soldier and State in Africa, op. cit., p. 32.

(102) Ibid.

(103) Finer, op. cit., pp. 226-229.