The trouble with ‘revolving doors’
On Thursday, Jan. 17, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Jessie Dellosa will relinquish command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to a yet-unnamed successor. Dellosa served in this position for one year and one month, the longest-serving AFP chief of the three appointees of President Aquino to serve as such. The first chosen by P-Noy was Gen. Ricardo David Jr., who served for eight months. He is now the Immigration commissioner. The second was Gen. Eduardo Oban, who stayed for 10 months and is currently the undersecretary for operations of the Department of Transportation and Communications.
Perhaps, this is as good a time to take a quick glance at the past.
President Manuel Roxas, the first president of the Third Republic, had Maj. Gen. Rafael Jalandoni as his AFP chief of staff. President Elpidio Quirino’s appointees were Maj. Gens. Mariano Castañeda Sr. and Calixto Duque.
From President Ramon Magsaysay to President Joseph Estrada, a number of AFP chiefs served for at least three years. These included Lt. Gen. Jesus Vargas (the first chief to be given three stars), Lt. Gen. Manuel Cabal, Gen. Alfredo Santos (the first four-star chief of staff and also the first from the ROTC ranks), Gen. Manuel Yan (the youngest chief of staff, appointed at age 48), Gen. Fabian Ver, Gen. Renato de Villa, and Gen. Lisandro Abadia. Gen. Romeo Espino retained his position for nine years and nine months, making him the longest-serving AFP chief.
Others served for less than three years. They were Lt. Gen. Alfonso Arellano, Lt. Gen. Pelagio Cruz (the first air force officer to become AFP chief), Gens. Rigoberto Atienza, Ernesto Mata, Victor Osias, Segundo Velasco, Fidel V. Ramos (the first and only chief of staff elected to the presidency), Rodolfo Biazon, Arturo Enrile, Arnulfo Acedera, Clemente Mariano, Joselin Nazareno, and Angelo Reyes.
Under President Gloria Arroyo, the AFP “revolving door” was in full swing. During her 10-year tenure she appointed 11 AFP chiefs.
AFP Chief of Staff Length of service as AFP Chief
Diomedio Villanueva One year, three months
Roy Cimatu Four months
Benjamin Defensor Three months
Dionisio Santiago Four months
Narciso Abaya One year, seven months
Efren Abu 10 months
Generoso Senga 11 months
Hermogenes Esperon One year, 10 months
Alexander Yano One year
Victor Ibrado 10 months
Delfin Bangit Three months
In just one year, 2002, the AFP had three change-of-command ceremonies at Camp Aguinaldo. The appointees had just begun to warm their seats when the time came for them to say goodbye to the troops. With such a fluid situation at the top, it was the perfect environment for underlings to engage in mischievous activities. Since the commander knew that he was not going to be around for any length of time, not much thought was devoted to any performance audit or review. The leadership was also focused on protecting the seat of power and its occupant rather than on preserving the integrity of the organization.
One of the most disturbing events during the Arroyo years was the confiscation by US Customs authorities of undeclared foreign exchange being brought into the United States by family members of an AFP comptroller. The discovery would have far-reaching consequences for the Armed Forces. It would lead to the tragic self-inflicted death of Gen. Angelo Reyes.
Has the revolving door policy been a contributing factor that led to one of the worst abuses in the history of our Armed Forces?
The National Defense Act, approved on Dec. 21, 1935 (designated as AFP Day), provides that the chief of staff is responsible for “recruiting, organizing, supplying, equipping, mobilizing, training, and demobilizing the Army in peace and in war, and for the use of military forces for national defense.” How can any individual serving for one year, or even less, carry out such awesome responsibilities? For his official duties and concerns, my barangay chief has a tenure of three years that is set by law. The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff serves for a term of two years and can be extended twice for a total of six years on the job. The service commanders, Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines, serve for four years.
Our Armed Forces deserve a better deal.
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There are a number of candidates being considered for the next AFP chief of staff. In my opinion, only two are serious contenders. Both have outstanding military service records and there is no question as to their qualifications and ability to lead the Armed Forces. My only concern is that both are retiring next year, 2014. This means that whoever gets appointed will again have only a year plus several months before reaching the compulsory retirement age of 56.
Army Commander Lt. Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista graduated No. 7 in the PMA Class of 1981. He is a classmate of newly appointed PNP Chief Alan Purisima. The topnotcher of their class was Cadet Thawip Netniyom from Thailand, while Police Chief Supt. Catalino Cuy served as the “Baron” or “First Captain” of the Cadet Corps. A consistent achiever, General Bautista topped his batch at the Scout Ranger Course, the Infantry Officer Advance Course, and the Command and General Staff Course. He got his third star (Lieutenant General) in December 2011 and retires in July 2014.
The Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Lauro Catalino de la Cruz belongs to PMA Class 1980. He is a product of the Royal New Zealand Air Force Command and Staff College and has served with distinction in various positions of responsibility in the air organization. He received his third star in March 2012 and will retire in April 2014.
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Is the AFP fated for short-term leadership for the rest of its existence? Unless something drastic takes place, it appears that the revolving door policy that was mastered by former President Arroyo is slowly taking hold in the selection process of the highest official in the military organization.