POSTSCRIPT / March 19, 2006 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Military replacing press as fourth branch of gov't

FOURTH ESTATE: If the Philippine press ever considered itself as the Fourth Estate in the tradition of feudal Europe — or presumed itself to be the Fourth Branch of government in our present-day Republican setting — that moment could be as fleeting as Camelot was.

That term Fourth Estate has been liberally translated or transported to this time and place as the Fourth Branch of government. The translation is not only inaccurate, but also inappropriate.

There is glaring disparity between the Three Estates of medieval Europe and the Three Branches (or departments) of the Philippine government. Many of us are, in fact, uncomfortable with the reference.

If ever the unelected Philippine press appears to be the Fourth Branch, it is only by common consent or tolerance (or some people with PR proclivities are just humoring us). Still, many journalists have played along and aggressively assumed the role of watchdog of government.

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MILTARY IN: But with the Arroyo regime out to browbeat the press to submission and with political ferment threatening the status quo, the press faces today the prospect of losing that reference to it as the Fourth Estate or the equivalent Fourth Branch of government.

What is fast emerging as the Fourth Branch, in lieu of the press, is the Military.

The armed forces earned a niche in our political hierarchy after the 1986 Edsa Revolt saw military units and commanders on both sides of the Marcos fence playing a key role in the bloodless transition from dictatorship to democracy.

The anti-Marcos forces in the Edsa Revolt (why call it a Revolution?) led by then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and national police chief Gen. Fidel V. Ramos were more military than civilian.

It was not surprising then that although the Constitution that emerged from Edsa asserted in Section 3, Article II, that “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military,” it also said that “The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State.”

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COUNTERFORCE: Section 3 is often cited to justify attempts of military elements to disregard the chain of command, dissociate themselves from the Commander-in-Chief (the President) and embark on what look like attempts at a coup d’etat.

In short, the military that has tasted political power by playing a key role in upheavals has emerged as a conscious countervailing force vis-à-vis the political forces operating in government.

Although the armed forces is just a bureau in the defense department, it sometimes looms bigger than the entire government, because of its guns which ironically are issued by the government itself.

The military has become the putative Fourth Branch of government by sheer assertion backed by force of arms and its invoking that unusual Section 3, Article II.

What will happen to the Press as the Fourth Estate? Has it lost the title by failing to live up to its duties and responsibilities? If it is still hanging on, is it now on the verge of being pushed off the ledge by the force of legal maneuvers and military might?

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TERM TRACED: Some Internet entries trace the term Fourth Estate at least to Thomas Carlyle in the first half of the 19th century.

In the Ancien Régime (or old regime, before the 1789-1799 French Revolution) in France, power relied on three pillars: the monarchy, the clergy and the aristocracy. Society was divided into three Estates of the realm: the First Estate, the Roman Catholic clergy; the Second Estate, the nobility; and the Third Estate, the rest of the population.

In “On Heroes and Hero Worship” (1841), Carlyle writes, “… does not… the parliamentary debate go on… in a far more comprehensive way, out of Parliament altogether? Edmund Birke said that there were three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a fourth Estate more important than they all.” It was not Carlyle’s first use of the term.

(The reference reminds me of the reporter’s gallery from where we used to cover the sessions of the pre-martial law Senate and, in the process, earned the equivalent of a college education by just listening to the learned debates on the floor.)

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POWER SHUFFLE: Note that historically the Church, more than the press, has always been part of the power equation. Its ascendancy was more marked in those times when there was political collaboration between the papacy and the monarchy.

The separation of the Church and the State, a principle enshrined in our Constitution, may block any attempt at present of the Church or some religious group to grab political power.

But then, whenever a power vacuum develops or when chaos rears its head, there is always a realignment of forces during which anything can happen regardless of the Constitution.

Creeping anarchy or impending chaos may just tempt a politicized (also disgruntled) military to march out of the barracks and interfere in the political drama unfolding in the streets and in corridors of power.

The convenient excuse is Section 3, Article II, assigning the military the role of “protector of the people and the State.” And the tool: guns.

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TRY ME: Btw, have you been mentioned in my Postscript column in the last seven years? In what light?

It is so easy to find out if you have Internet connection. Visit my website to satisfy your curiosity. When my ManilaMail homepage opens, click its Search button (not the Search of your browser!).

Type your name, or whatever topic you are interested in, and hit Enter. All the Postscripts, features and news items in ManilaMail that had mentioned you in the last seven years will appear, with the dates and titles/heads indicated. From the list, click the item you want to read/view and it will open.

If you want to know what Postscript has said about, say dual citizenship, the Bill of Rights, visa application, some VIP, or whatever subject, click Search, type in the topic, and hit Enter.

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ORDERLY ARCHIVE: Many readers complain that they have a hard time locating old stories or articles in the homepages of some of their favorite newspapers, even those only days old. Not so in my ManilaMail site, which gives fast, easy access to Postscript materials as old as seven years.

Readers who want to search by date, instead of by subject, can use my Archive in ManilaMail. Click Archive and you will see an orderly chronological listing of all my Postscripts from the present to 1999, with the date and title/subject indicated.

I am pointing out the neat, easy access to my Archive, because many friends have asked me how to locate old columns. Try my Archive and Search functions and you will know why I am recommending them.

This is also an opportunity for me to advise readers that this column is this short because my computer is suddenly acting up again. (But that will not affect my ManilaMail website’s efficiency.) Filing this column alone will be quite a problem.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 19, 2006)

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