Friday, January 25, 2008

Legal vs Ethical arguments

I would like to address this issue in terms of a practical example. I went for a bike ride through an air base last week in the Philippines. I was reproached by a Captain at the base. I was riding with my Filipino GF along the road – a path I have been taking for about a year now between 1-3 times a day. This air base is one of the most scenic places in Batangas province, but just as importantly its also safe and in close proximity to the city proper. I think if I was not able to go riding in the base I would probably not live in the Philippines. In fact I think the air base has far greater strategic value as a public park than as a air base. Why? The air base is just a preliminary training facility for pilots, a few of whom will go onto fly jets at another base. The plans they fly have the technological sophistication of a crop-duster, so do not pose a security risk.

Now the argument of the Captain for me not being on the base seems reasonable enough. He said that Foreigners are not permitted on the base. Now I could leave it at that, but I would hate to leave my girlfriend before time – that is before I am dead. Anyway, he is a person of rank (authority), so I have to give his argument some consideration. I canvassed a number of motives that he might hold:

Possible Motives

I considered what possible motive the Captain might have for refusing my entry onto the base:

  1. Racial: Did he have a personal collective dislike of westerners? Does he think they don’t justify the attention or reverence that most Filipinos seem to hold of Americans in particular?
  2. Fear: Does he think I pose a threat to the air base or his personal security.
  3. Victim: Does he want to be a victim, and is making me the cause of his ills. Is he just having a bad day, and just wants somebody to take his anger out upon. Eg. Did he just break up with his GF or did his father die. That context I don’t know – only his friends and family would. I can only consider what I know.
  4. Ignorance: Is he making a judgement on too little information? I was not present when the conversation was held between his and my GF.
  5. Reason: Was his judgement based on valid reasoning? The only argument I heard made was that I was a foreigner and the air base was a restricted area. Other than that I don’t know the law, nor the arguments she made.

My motives for rejecting his thinking

I decided to reject his thinking for a number of reasons:

  1. Practicality: There is very little I can do. I really need to go through the base to get from my place to my GFs.
  2. Imminence: I did not see a problem in the short term so I had time to seek a 2nd opinion.
  3. Downside: I have nothing to loose from attempting to re-enter the base since I am disallowed anyway. They aren’t going to shoot me.
  4. Contradiction: I could see little downside in rejecting his judgement. The Captain might have disallowed my presence on the base, but a colonel (my GF’s father) and the gate guards have sanctioned it. The colonel argued that I am not passing in the vicinity of the aircraft hangers, I am entering private quarters. I am staying on the road. He also made the point that the law is that no persons except military personal & related family members are allowed on the base.
  5. Breach of duty: The Captain has argued that the gate guards should not have granted me entry into the base because I am a foreigner. Whilst he accuses them of this breach, he thought so little of the issue not to reproach their lax security judgement. His thus has a lax or contradictory position which should diminish his position if the issue escalates.

My reasons for thinking I am right

  1. Legal position: A lot of people don’t do things because they are against the law. In these cases the (military) police has the discretion to enhere are a great many enforce the law or disregard it. The implication of this is that application of the law becomes somewhat subjective. The law might be that foreigners are not allowed on the base, but neither are 20% of the other people on the base who are their for work, sport, education.
  2. Historical context: The law that prohibits foreigners really belongs to a different political era, when President Marcos was presiding over a dictatorship. The law is not applied by security because it seems irrelevant when the greater threat is likely to be Muslim Filipinos with a conflict with the government. In that nationalist context, maybe foreigners could be considered a threat. But at it stands the air base has been downgraded as a military installation to basic training.
  3. Modern context: Foreigners are not a blanket threat to the Philippines. All foreigners are not alike. There are allies and enemies. The Australian government is an ally of the Philippines. In fact the Australian government has just given the Philippines government a lot of F111s, so that should be clear enough.
  4. Personal context: The personal context is that I am trusted enough to be staying at the residence of a colonel in the military – for more than a year now, and I think his regard for security would be more pressing than the Philippines governments.

I personally think the evidence suggests the Captain imposed his personal values upon me rather than acting in the best interests of the Philippines. I will tell him so next time, and my blog address so he can remedy his thinking. I wonder whether the soldier is aware of his flawed thinking. You would expect a soldier to enforce the rules of the base. They are not trained to question orders right? But at some level you need to because there will be no one higher. The problem with military thinking will be the subject of my next posting.

Andrew Sheldon
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