Camp Crame faces ‘backhoe’ threat
UNLESS A decisive national govrnment intervenes, Crame Crame, headquarters of the 135,000-strong Philippine National Police, faces possible demolition by backhoe—that demonic machine that buried under mounds of earth more than 50 innocent, unarmed civilians slaughtered in Maguindanao by gunmen of the Ampatuan clan’s private army.
Last April 25, the National Historical Commission unveiled a marker recognizing the historical significance of the role of the four-hectare camp in the downfall of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos as a result of the February 1986 People Power Revolution. “With the historical events that unfolded in Camp Crame,” NHC chair Maria Serena Diokno said, “it deserves government recognition to serve as an inspiration to all policemen.” The unveiling of the marker was a pointed attempt by the commission to forestall the execution of the Aquino administration’s plan to sell two key military camps in Metro Manila—Camp Aquinaldo and Camp Crame—to raise revenues to finance government infrastructure projects.
But NHC executive director Ludovico Badoy said these recognized historical sites are “already protector by law,” and “[i]t would be hard for the government to sell (them) for other use.” The NHC action to trump this plan of administration came in the wake of his weak-kneed action to stave off pressure mounted by the family and political heirs of dictator Ferdinand Marcos to have his body buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery of Heroes), which is also located in a military reservation.
The significance of both Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame—the heart of the country’s military defense complex—is that the military mutiny against the Marcos regime started in Aguinaldo, where Marcos’ Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, then vice chief of staff Fidel Ramos (also head of the Integrated National Police) and the RAM colonels, led by then Lt. Col. Gregorio Honasan, withdraw their support for the Marcos government, igniting the popular revolution against the dictatorship. Camp Crame, the hot rod of this plan to dispose of the two camps, was the nerve center of the military defection operations against the Marcos regime. It was in that camp where Ramos galvanized constabulary units under his jurisdiction, to join the rebellion—which was mainly the mobilization of Philippine Constabulary (PC) and Air Force units against the Marcos loyalist forces mostly composed of Army soldiers and Marines, some of whom soon defected to join the rebellion centered in Camp Crame.
Ramos, breaking his silence, said the recognition of Crame as a historical heritage site “immortalized” the camp’s importance to the Filipino people’s fight to restore democracy during the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship. “This (marker) reminds us of the important lesson we learned in Edsa,” he said. “It was when a reformist component of the Armed Forces won the support of the people.”
The marker and Ramos’ reaction came as a rebuke to President Aquino’s tepid response to the attacks launched by Marcos’ political heirs against the political ideology of Edsa, which was espoused by the President’s mother, the late President Cory Aquino. The opposition to the plan to sell the camps—possibly to real estate developers and shopping center giants—has started to build up in Congress.
On Jan. 7, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima announced that the government was planning to privatize prime government real estate assets, including Camps Aguinaldo and Crame. Both camps have a total land area of 219 hectares. Camp Aguinaldo, established in 1935, when the Commonwealth Government was inaugurated, covers 178 hectares. It is the site of the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Department of National Defense, as well as the National Capital Regional Command, among other institutions. Camp Crame was established in 1938, as PC headquarters. The PC was established on Aug. 8, 1901, under the supervision of the American civil government, by the Philippine Commission, as a paramilitary force to complete the pacification of the colony. The PC won fame with the participation of the Philippine Constabulary Band in the St. Louis Exposition in 1904. The band was formed on Oct. 15, 1902 by Colonel Walter Loving upon the instructions of Governor William Howard Taft, who was known as a music lover. The PC band affirmed in the eyes of the Americans that the Filipinos were a civilized people with cultural and political institutions, not backward savages.
The camp is named after Rafael Crame, who was appointed chief of the constabulary in 1917.
In 1935, a large tract of land was acquired by the Quezon administration in Quezon City, for future use as military camps. Under the National Defense Act of 1935, the PC became the backbone of the Philippine Army.
Purisima said defense and military officials agreed that the two camps “should probably be redeveloped in order to build a better and bigger site of a consolidated military facility, and modernize the armed forces.” It is estimated that the government can raise P55.5 billion from the sale of the two camps.
Sen. Joker Arroyo is not impressed by these dazzling claims. He says the sale of military camps in the past hardly benefited the Armed Forces, citing the sale of Fort Bonifacio and Villamor Air Base. He says the sale of these camps has not helped modernize the Armed Forces and has promoted instead the global city in Fort Bonifacio as the bastion of big business.
When the backhoes start to clear the privatized assets, these wretched machines would become the symbols of mass slaughter of human beings and demolition of engineering structures.
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