The Jakarta Post
The government’s decision to prepare hundreds of thousands of Indonesian Military (TNI) officers for deployment to help enforce pandemic health protocols has drawn criticism among defense analysts and human rights experts for its nod to past military practices.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced last week that the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police would work together to guard crowded places in preparation for the so-called “new normal” of living alongside COVID-19.
As many as 340,000 troops have been on stand-by to deploy across more than two dozen cities to oversee enforcement of measures aimed at curbing transmission of the disease, as the country gears up for the eventual easing of restrictions on movement and travel.
But the move risks inviting people to rise up against a possible “hard” security approach to compliance, said security expert Anton Aliabbas, as the economy fumbles and incomes dissipate as a result of the viral outbreak and the ensuing restrictions.
“The problem is whether ‘disciplining’ the public requires the TNI [to step in]. If people refuse to obey, will [troops] become coercive?” asked Anton, who is a researcher from security reforms and human rights watchdog Imparsial.
Taking a hard approach without discretion, he said, could “trigger greater resistance amidst the surge of unemployment and peoples’ frustration”.
Such a move could also potentially undermine the military’s main duty to safeguard against national security threats or threats to territorial integrity, said Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid.
“We do not need military personnel to remind the public to wash their hands properly or to practice strict social distancing – we have health officers or the Public Order Agency [Satpol PP] to do that,” Usman said in a statement to The Jakarta Post.
“Involving military personnel to enforce health protocols will in fact undermine their primary role to maintain security; we need to remember that this is a health emergency, not a civilian one.”
Jokowi floated the idea of declaring a civil emergency in March but backed off following pushback from critics. Many of them argued that imposing a civil emergency could undermine human rights and that was not suited to the current circumstances.
Government Regulation in Lieu of Law (Perppu) No. 23/1959 on civil emergency stipulates that the President has the authority to declare a state of civil emergency, which would allow for the wider mobilization of security assets, among other things.
Usman also expressed concerns over the implied return of Dwifungsi, a New Order-era policy under which the former Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) were allowed to take on civilian roles in government.
The Jokowi administration has seen the return of more TNI officers and retired military generals to public office, facilitated in Presidential Regulation (Perpres) No. 37/2019 on functional positions for TNI personnel.
The President’s flirtations with the nation’s security apparatuses have alarmed rights activists and victims of past trauma, many of whom fear a return to draconian New Order practices. Critics have also pushed back against the security approach that Jokowi seems to prefer when dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak.
The military deployment plan follows another plan to legally involve troops in the fight against terrorism, long considered to be the domain of the police as stipulated in the 2018 Terrorism Law.
Jokowi has also called for the active involvement of the TNI and Polri in the fight against forest fires, and had even gone on record to say that he would replace the top brass at the local and provincial levels if they could not quell the fires.
Defense analysts have questioned the TNI’s latest deployment plan, arguing that while the military could be involved in non-combat assignments, the executive order still lacked clear boundaries. Military operations other than war (MOOTW) are usually temporary in nature, experts insist.
According to Paragraph 3, Article 7 of the 2004 TNI Law, the President holds the authority to use the military’s forces in war operations and MOOTW with approval from lawmakers.
“This [deployment order], meanwhile, is a decision that is conveyed verbally. Who can guarantee the limitations of the operation?” said Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) researcher Diandra Megaputri Mengko.
Diandra urged the government to follow existing regulations before deploying military forces as part of “new normal” protocol.
Presidential spokesman Fadjroel Rachman did not immediately respond to the Post’s inquiry about the policy.
Last Tuesday, the President instructed the military and the police to guard public places in DKI Jakarta, West Java, West Sumatra and Gorontalo and 25 cities to get them to obey health protocols.
TNI commander Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto said personnel from the joint TNI-Polri operations would guard 1,800 spots around the country, including in malls, traditional markets and tourist attractions, among other places.
TNI spokesman Maj. Gen. Sisriadi said the military had 150,000 troops and the police had 190,000 officers on stand-by, although he insisted that only 20,000 military personnel had been deployed to select areas to enforce the rules.