IN the US midterm elections yesterday, John Warner, a former US senator and military veteran, made a strong appeal to American voters to “pay special attention to the large number of qualified veterans running for office” and cast a vote for them.
He essayed an argument on the wisdom of tapping military veterans for lawmaking in Congress, an argument that can also be used to justify the recruitment of military retirees into the government bureaucracy or the Cabinet.
Second service for military veterans
Warner called a veteran’s stint in public office “a second service.”
I quote at length the heart of his argument:
“Every year the need increases for experienced and dedicated citizens to step up and volunteer for public service, hopefully as members of Congress. As a fellow veteran of both WW2 and Korea, and former Secretary of the Navy, I believe the nation benefits when former members of the armed services rise to the challenge of running for office.
While the first obligation of a member of Congress is to care for the needs of the folks back home, the rapidly changing world beyond our shores is an ever-evolving challenge. Most veterans are fully capable of assessing the needs of the people at home, but they also bring the added knowledge of the world that comes from having been deployed overseas. With this combination of experience, vets in general are often ready to hit the ground running once they take office.
With the world market increasingly impacting Main Street America, and the ever-shifting national security challenges which demand a constant, reliable US military presence, we need leaders to enter Congress with little need for on-the-job training.
From the moment military recruits first put on their uniforms, the creed of ‘duty, honor, country’ is tattooed on their heart. As you begin your training, you begin to exercise leadership – then you perform your missions, hoping you and all under your command will survive. To achieve these goals, you must learn to respect and trust your fellow service persons regardless of where they are from, the color of their skin, or any other label besides American. This is essential! For many veterans, this tolerance and ability to work together follows them into civilian life.
Many times I’ve seen how this military order and discipline enables politicians to resolve differences and deadlocks, and cross the aisle to create legislative goals. The time-honored military spirit embodied in the phrase ‘we can do, we must do’ lives on in veterans.
I’m heartened to see that in the current elections, there has been a significant increase in the number of veterans stepping up once again to volunteer to serve our nation. The specific request I ask of you citizens as you prepare to vote, is to check your ballots to see if it includes a military veteran – soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine. If so, pause for a moment to give him or her a second thoughtful review before you vote.
From the end of WW2 to the 1990s, 70-80 percent of Congress were veterans of WW2, Korea or Vietnam. When I left Congress in 2007, the percentage had begun to dwindle, to where today the number is below 20 percent. Records show Congress fulfilled its constitutional responsibilities better in post-WW2 America, and clearly the military training and discipline of many members was important to this outcome.
Based on my several decades of public service, particularly as a US senator, I strongly believe that having a significant number of veterans in Congress is a common sense means to help ease our current political paralysis and excessive partisanship. Veterans can help us have a less polarized government.
It’s not that we veterans consider ourselves smarter, or more skilled at politics than others. Rather, it’s that service in the Armed Forces instills certain behaviors and disciplines, the most important of which is mutual respect for our fellow veterans. That often takes the form of civility, dedication and a can-do spirit.
Washington now is seized with contentious behavior and rude remarks, rather than the kind of respectful cooperation that allowed our generation to get things done! More veterans in public office would have a significant, positive effect and enable Congress to be more productive, giving the members a greater sense of achievement and satisfaction….
For many of the nearly 40 veterans who have signed the pledge to serve with integrity, civility, and courage, I’m optimistic that their second service will begin this Tuesday.”
Election not appointments
Something similar undoubtedly underlies President Duterte’s practice and inclination to appoint former military men to his Cabinet and to leading positions in the bureaucracy.
John Warner was talking about the election of military veterans to public office. President Duterte’s acts concern the appointment of veterans to commanding positions in the bureaucracy, as when he made the decision to appoint former AFP chief Rey Leonardo Guerrero as the new commissioner of Customs. DU30 made it dramatic when he announced that he asked the military to take over the Customs in order to stop corruption in the bureau. Then he compounded the confusion by musing publicly that he wanted more military men in his administration and in the government.
When the decision was portrayed by the media as a “military takeover,” a huge controversy followed. Citizens, pundits and politicians uniformly questioned the constitutionality of the presidential order.
And they had an unequivocal constitutional provision to lean on: Article XVI, Section 4, which reads: “No member of the armed forces in the active service shall, at any time, be appointed or designated in any capacity to a civilian position in the government, including government-owned or -controlled corporations or any of their subsidiaries.”
The constitutional language is so clear, there is absolutely no way DU30 can win against a legal challenge should he insist on appointing active men in uniform.
Duterte in retreat
Consequently, the president has retreated from his previous statements.
On Tuesday, Duterte clarified his earlier statement and said the military will not be taking over the functions of BoC employees.
Addressing his Cabinet in Malacañang, Duterte said he “called in the Army to help” but “there was no designation, there was no appointment and there [was] never an instruction for them to take over the functions of the employed.”
On October 28, Duterte said he would order the military to “take over” the operations at the BoC in a bid to address issues on corruption and drug smuggling allegations at the agency.
What civilian supremacy means
While on the subject of clarifying words and meanings, it is also best to clarify the meaning of “civilian supremacy over the military,” which misleads so many. We should not repeat the comedy that transpired when former senator Orlando Mercado served for a time as the Secretary of National Defense during the presidency of Joseph Estrada, as he tried his level best to look as the equal or superior of the many high-ranked generals of the armed forces. Rev. Joaquin Bernas, S.J. caustically commented that civilian supremacy during that time looked more like “civilian inferiority.”
The proper approach, if we adopt the practice of the historian Barbara Tuchman, is to view supremacy as “civilian control of the military.”
It is always the civilian who makes policy, even when the decision is to wage war.
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The opinion column “OBSERVER” by Yen Makabenta that appeared on the front page of The Manila Times on Tuesday, November 6, erroneously referred to the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC) as the body that “called for the resignation of the Secretary of Finance, Carlos Dominguez 3rd.“ It was actually the Coalition Against Corruption (CAC) who made that call.