Since Monday, troops from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) National Capital Region Command have been deployed in ten cities throughout Metro Manila. The deployment, according to AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. was undertaken to prevent the outbreak of violence in "10 alleged election hotspots" in Metro Manila. These cities include Pasay, Manila, Paranaque, Makati, Valenzuela, Malabon, Marikina, Caloocan and Quezon City. Burgos says that these cities were listed in the military's election watchlist.
Let me make this very clear--Burgos claims that the deployment of more than 2,300 troops (or three battalions) was part of the AFP's HOPE operations. Burgos claims that the AFP has its own election watchlist. Let's ask some questions.
What was the basis in placing these areas under the election watchlist and whose list should the AFP follow--theirs or the Commission on Elections (Comelec)?
Likewise, was it the real mandate or duty of the AFP to deploy troops without being asked either by the Comelec or the PNP? Under the law, the AFP is just an augmentation force in the event that violence gets worse in a particular area.
If I remember it correctly, civilian authority still reigns supreme these days. Why did the AFP act independently of the Comelec? There was no clear mandate given to the AFP by the Comelec, why did they deploy their troops?
Besides, there was no clear outbreak of election-related violence in the Metro. No politician assassinated, no bombs went off and no clear signs of massive poll-related incidents. Why deploy troops with still five days to go before D-Day?
Likewise, what will heavily armed troops do in the event of poll-violence, shoot at people? Soldiers are just called upon when the situation warrants it. Example of such cases would be the presence of armed men. But, is the PNP incapable of dealing with such situations? I think the PNP is more than capable of dealing with civilians involved in violent situations. The AFP is needed in other areas like Abra and Mindanao, not in Metro Manila.
Clearly this deployment is highly suspicious and a wrong move. For one, this heightens political tensions instead of diffusing it. Second, this will surely fuel speculations of a possible sinister plot in place to derail the elections. Was it just a coincidence that the deployment came a day or two ahead of calls for the postponement of the elections? Why deploy troops when there is no existing pockets of violence happening in the Metro?
Or this is just a knee-jerk reaction from a very "nervous" AFP leadership seeing that an Aquino win is clearly within the horizon? Last night, AFP Chief of Staff Delfin Bangit just met with Catholic church leaders. This came after the purported visits of Defense secretary Norberto Gonzales on numerous military camps and even before bishops. And there was this "prayer rally" of the AFP and the PNP, which was largely perceived as a "show of force" to deter possible "adventurist" thoughts from other groups.
Are these gentlemen anticipating moves from "other camps"? The AFP NCR command is Arroyo's counter-coup force. Is the AFP secretly anticipating a coup? Or, they are just maneuvering to steal the thunder so to speak from patriotic forces out to secure democracy from the clutches of Mrs. Arroyo's mafia?
This is a very wrong move and sends a very wrong signal to the people and the business community. The AFP should explain this and fast.