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Why coup talks worry estate owners and planners

(Article published in the October 30, 2001 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

Instability is anathema to estate planners except, of course, to those planning the instability itself to enhance their estate.

Thus, many are genuinely concerned about the current reportage in print and broadcast media about rumored coups. With basis or not, the mention of coup plots, particularly embellished by references to "well-placed sources" or sources "requesting anonymity" call to mind the havoc wrecked on the economy by the eight coup attempts that battered our country from 1986 to 1989. The failed coup, staged in December 1989, damaged our economy to an extent second only, to my mind, to the consequences of the 1997 Asian crisis.

Those wanting to go beyond coffee shop speculation and presidential tempers would do well to read a long forgotten document (that is, assuming it was ever read by people other than those involved in writing it) under the unassuming title, "The Final Report of the Fact-Finding Commission (pursuant to RA 6832)."

The report documents the results of the investigations and hearings on the attempted coup of December 1989 conducted for more than six months by a commission chaired by Hilario Davide Jr. (hence, the popular appellation "Davide Commission") and with members composed of UP professor Carolina Hernandez, Atty. Ricardo Romulo, Delfin Lazaro and Atty. Christian Monsod.

The commission members have since moved on to greater things: Hilario G. Davide, Jr. is at present chief justice of the Supreme Court. Professor Hernandez is bact at the academe. Atty. Romulo returned to his private practice, while Messrs. Lazaro and Monsod have rejoined the business sector whence they came.

But their list of reasons why the December coup was attempted continues to be instructive since it was articulated during the hearings by those who had themselves participated or were implicated in the failed coup. For reasons of space, let me mention only the top three reasons.

At the head of the list is the perception that the government failed to deliver basic services, especially in the rural areas. Three witnesses recounted their experiences in the filed where they saw the lack of basic services, even near Metro Manila. A third sharply contrasted this lack of services with the increase in taxes.

Graft and corruption in the civilian government and military establishment came in a close second. Witnesses talked of over-pricing of military uniforms and supplies, usurious loans and the practice called "conversion deals," i.e., artificial allocations in the budget for the purpose of circumventing the rules and regulations of the Commission on Audit.

Too much politics and grandstanding of politicians were number three. Echoing the sentiments of his fellow officers, a lieutenant colonel suggested that "Congress should act more and talk less."

How has our country changed since then? Are basic services, with the devolution of power to the local governments, now reaching the masa? What’s the real score on graft and corruption? Has Congress acted more and talked less? If our responses to these questions indicate that we have hardly moved, if at all, since 1989, then estate owners should indeed get worried.

Literature on coups is unanimous in saying that while not one factor can be singled out to be the exclusive cause of coups, certain societal factors, such as those mentioned by the 1989 coup participants, precipitate the occurrence of coups more than others.

Gregor Ferguson, in his Coup d’Etat: A Practical Manualžstated by some to have been the reference manual of those who plotted the 1989 coup, maintains: "there are no bad soldiers, only bad governments."

The more important question, today, therefore, is not so much whether or not there certain quarters are in fact plotting to mount a coup against the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but rather, what each one of us could do to help root out the causes of a coup that are found in our politics.