Retired General Jovito Palparan is a Filipino soldier

The case of retired General Jovito Palparan who had recently been arrested on charges of grave human rights abuses against activists is an interesting one. On one hand, here is a highly-decorated officer admired by his comrades in the Philippine military for his consistent zeal in the battlefield and singular focus on crushing the enemy — the New People’s Army (NPA), the terrorist arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). On the other hand, he is regarded as the “Butcher” and the Berdugo (“executioner”) — a man who allegedly oversaw the torture and killing of activists as a means to the ends of his marching orders.

Left without US military assistance, the Philippines is a largely helpless and defenseless nation.
Left without US military assistance, the Philippines is a largely helpless and defenseless nation.
Even in the corporate world, ambitious employees aspire to be seen by their superiors as the guy who gets shit done. Corporate culture rewards executives who are able to inspire their staff with glibly militaristic directives like “go over there and kick ass” or, when referring to “issues”, to “make it go away”. Corporate executives, cubicle warriors are incessantly told, don’t want to hear excuses, only results.

Interestingly, this sort of prevalent corporate culture models itself on the typical military organisation. Military command is arguably the most efficient results-oriented approach to organising people. When a military organisation fails, people die. Lots of people. Thus, military organisations have evolved over the centuries into what they are today — no-nonsense organisations whose mission is to kill and survive while doing that.

Similarly when corporations fail, people lose their jobs and economies take hits in their growth targets. More importantly, executives don’t get their bonuses and get chewed out by their wives for failing to bring home the diamonds. And that is why corporations, taking on board the wisdom of management consulting firms, have adopted the ethos of military organisations and sport teams — so they could tap the primal impulses of their young guns to deliver results. To the bottom line, in this case.

Most corporate types will attest to the effectiveness with which corporations are able to “motivate” them to nail the sale and kill the competition. So effective and systematically-applied is this “motivation” that generations of brilliantly-small-minded university-educated career folk have sacrificed health, family, friends, and spouses at the altar of corporate success.

What does this have to do with Jovito “the (alleged) Butcher” Palparan?

Well, everything. Many of us can never know what soldiers go through in the battlefield. The “enemy” to a typical soldier is a mere abstraction, more a target to kill than the human being it usually is. It is the same whatever end of a gun barrel one might happen to be situated. When you are behind it, finger twitching on the trigger, the other guy is a kill that must happen. When you are on the other end being shot at, the other guy is a bogey that you desperately also need to kill. If your man on the ground is in the habit of launching into existential debates in his head everytime he is faced with a kill-or-be-killed situation, well, you really wouldn’t want that sort of soldier in your team. And that is why that kind of mental habit is systematically beaten out of the average cadet in basic training.

In short, soldiers are trained to kill on orders.

Make no illiusions about what military training is all about. It is all geared towards training killers and getting them to work well amongst fellow trained killers to form a collective that works cohesively to crush the enemy. So there is really no mystery behind why Filipino soldiers continue to admire Palparan and why their gentrified “officers” are under pressure to order them to keep that sentiment to themselves — because civilians will never understand what soldiers go through.

People will balk at that simple but confronting truth. Soldiers, the average emo civilian will insist, are “defenders”. Of course they are. Japan’s Imperial Army is now known as its “Defense Force” precisely to pander to that sentiment. But that doesn’t change what its soldiers are. And by no means should that sort of peace time sentiment change the Filipino soldier either. Because to be able to defend a territory and keep its citizens happily tapping on their iPads while sipping their lattes at the local Starbucks, there are enemies to kill.

If you find yourself in a dark street corner with a shadowy figure coming at you with a knife, you’d ideally want a big black shiny attack dog on your side — not a yip-yip lap dog. You’d want that shadowy figure sprawled on the ground with that dog’s jaws clamped around his neck first before you come around to the task of figuring out who he was and what he planned to do to you.

Jovito Palparan was that attack dog. Did he take his mission to crush Filipino communists seriously? By all accounts he did. Did the means with which he sought to fulfill that mission justify that end? That is what is debatable today. What position you take in that debate will, of course, depend on what side of the kill equation you happen to be in.

[Photo courtesy UPI.]