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Brand-new PMA ‘sup’ retires in 5 months

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Just in case our readers may not be familiar with the term, “sup” refers to the superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy, the head of the nation’s premier military institution.

Last Friday, Major General Nonato Alfredo Peralta relinquished his post as PMA superintendent to Lieutenant General Ireneo Espino, former AFP inspector general. Both belong to PMA class 1979 and are classmates of the AFP chief of staff, Gen. Jessie Dellosa. Peralta takes over as head of the 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army. With only a year left in the military service, one would think that Peralta would be more productive if he had been allowed to close out his career at the PMA.

However, some issues appear to have clouded the tenure of Peralta as superintendent. One had to do with the small number of candidates who were accepted by the PMA last April. Out of some 15,000 who sent in applications, only 6,000-plus actually took the entrance exams. Of this number, a little more than a thousand made the passing mark, and not all of them met the physical requirements. This resulted in just over 100 being appointed to constitute the class of 2016, one of the smallest batches to enter the academy in recent years. Some quarters fault the superintendent for policy mistakes in the implementation of admission standards.

Another issue has to do with the attitude of Peralta in dealing with the PMA Board of Visitors (BOV). The BOV is a body set up to assist the PMA administration in the implementation of “PMA Road Map 2015,” a 10-year strategic plan for charting the future directions of PMA in a rational and logical manner. The plan was crafted to enable current and future administrations of the PMA to achieve the desired vision for the institution by focusing its resources and efforts toward a common goal.

The members of the board, retired officers and private sector nominees, are hand-picked and appointed by the defense secretary. The present board is chaired by Francis Estrada, former president of the Asian Institute of Management. One would think that Estrada’s voice would be given considerable attention in PMA deliberations and activities.

A few months back, BOV Chair Estrada sent Major General Peralta a communication requesting clarification on some of the actions and policy initiatives of the superintendent. He was not given the courtesy of any reply, verbal or written. His attitude reflected a disdain for the board. Perhaps, he failed to realize that he was also being disrespectful towards the secretary of defense.

Although I have not been able to fully verify this information, I understand the Association of General and Flag Officers (AGFO) was also unhappy about PMA’s treatment of retired star rank officers.

Major General Peralta has been moved out of the PMA but what is surprising is another “revolving door” situation that has resulted from his relief. Peralta’s replacement, Lieutenant General Espino, has only five months left in the military service. This means that in less than half-a-year, we will be having another officer appointed to what should be considered a critical and vital position in the Armed Forces, requiring a longer and more stable tenure of office. I find it difficult to understand the rationale behind installing a superintendent with so little time left to do anything worthwhile except prepare for post-retirement activities. Perhaps, this is a by-product of the “revolving door” policy at the top, where we have roughly one AFP chief of staff per year. In the three years of the present administration, we also average one PMA superintendent per year and, as we all know, this makes no management sense. The lowly barangay chief has a term of office of three years.

I have been informed that Espino’s appointment should be considered some kind of transition. What for? Why not put someone in with a decent amount of time left for service, regardless of class?

In 2008, Congress passed Republic Act 9500, an “Act to Strengthen the University of the Philippines as the National University.” The wording is quite important. UP is considered, not just any university, but the National University. I would like to believe that the PMA is not just any educational facility but the nation’s primary military institution deserving of respect and consideration from our leaders.

According to law, the president of UP is elected for a term of six years by the university’s 12-member Board of Regents (BOR). The current head is Alfredo Pascual who received six out of 11 votes from the board. According to a formal memorandum issued by the Office of the BOR, Pascual will serve from February 2011 to February 2017.

I note that many past presidents of the UP were heavyweights of the community during their time. They were chosen to serve as president not to close out their public careers and prepare for retirement but to contribute their experience and expertise for the benefit of the university. Sad to say, in the case of the PMA, oftentimes the position was given as a stepping stone to retirement that some people would call the “last hurrah” for a military officer. To be fair, some of the past superintendents should have stayed on longer because they did a great job of improving the image of the academy as well as the quality of our officer candidates.

It is time that we think out of the box. Why do we have to move officers up, class by class? Why not pick a senior colonel with drive, imagination and ambition to head the academy? He might come up with bold innovations and ideas that may just pleasantly surprise everyone.

In 1939, Gen. George Marshall, who served in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War, was appointed US Army chief of staff by President Franklin D. Roosevelt even though he ranked No. 34 on the army’s seniority list. As chief of staff, he proceeded to change America’s army, weeding out officers too old or incompetent to lead soldiers. He had an ability to recognize good officers and kept a little black book in which he listed those deserving of promotion and pushing them into positions of greater responsibility. He rewarded those who succeeded, eliminated those who failed. He stressed simplicity of orders for ease of understanding and execution.

One of his great discoveries was an obscure staff officer who Gen. Douglas MacArthur once described as his “best office clerk.” He promoted Dwight Eisenhower and jumped him over the heads of 220 senior generals to command the allied invasion of Europe in 1944. By the time Germany surrendered, he was known and acclaimed throughout the world. Behind the easygoing manner and charming smile was a ruthless ambition that brought him to the top of his profession as a soldier.

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