For a government that insists, manically, even maniacally, on the presumption of regularity, the Arroyo administration is certainly addicted to the irregular practice of politics. Consider the curious case of the country?s newest Brunei beauty: Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano.
On May 1, Yano will be ?relinquishing his post,? in the curious, because unusual, language of Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro. The relinquishing turnover is itself a subject of curiosity, because it comes 44 days before Yano?s original retirement date. Under an administration that thinks nothing of appointing a chief of staff to a three-month term, six weeks is no trivial matter.
The circumstances that lead up to Friday?s ceremony make up a curious set too: Early this month, Teodoro announced that Lt. Gen. Victor Ibrado, the Army?s commanding officer, will succeed Yano as the country?s top general. In turn, Lt. Gen. Delfin Bangit, commanding general of the Southern Luzon Command and one of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?s most trusted officers, will succeed Ibrado at the Army, by far the largest service in the AFP. (These new appointments, as the Philippine Daily Inquirer front-page story emphasized, would place Bangit in the best position to succeed Ibrado as chief of staff, when he retires before the May 2010 elections.)
The new appointees were named at a curiously early time; curious, because the nominations had the (intended?) effect of turning Yano, by all accounts a professional soldier of proven integrity, into a lame duck. One of the Inquirer?s military sources said, unsurprisingly: ?When his replacement was announced earlier than expected, projects, plans and documents [would] not be pushed to his office anymore since people will now consider the interest of the incoming commander.?
But that?s the Arroyo administration for you: professionalism at work is regarded with displeasure, and rewarded with an early exit, or worse.
(It is of course also possible that Ibrado?s tenure represents a compromise between Teodoro, the nephew of Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. with his own independent base of political power, and the President. Remember that Bangit had long been rumored to head the short list of Yano?s successors. Nothing certainly prevented the commander in chief from promoting her favorite to four-star general. Even the expected grumbling from older generals would have been easily contained. Perhaps Teodoro stood his ground. By the same token, it is also possible that Teodoro himself effected the changes, as proof that he is aligned with the President?s political objectives, and would therefore be in the best position to run as the administration?s presidential candidate.)
Even more curious, however, was Teodoro?s announcement of the new assignments of Yano and the AFP?s second in command, Vice Chief of Staff Cardozo Luna, who is also retiring early. Teodoro announced that Luna would be the new ambassador to The Hague and Yano the new ambassador to Brunei.
Despite what Press Secretary Cerge Remonde described as the participation of Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo in the process, and despite what Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ed Malaya called consultation, DFA officials were stunned by the curious appointments.
In the first place, ambassadorial appointments are traditionally announced by Malacańang (and the recall of diplomats by the DFA). Teodoro?s announcement was a breach of protocol.
Secondly, the double-barreled resort to diplomatic postings as a convenient way to sideline officials in other government units was a breach of tradition. Other soldiers have certainly done the country proud after they were named as diplomats, but the addition, in one swoop, of two new ambassadors from the AFP turns the foreign service?s tradition of maintaining a pool of career diplomats on its head.
Last, the many irregularities in the obviously well-organized campaign to sideline Yano constitute a breach of trust. The Arroyo administration has acted, not in the public?s best interest, but self-servingly. How can it be in the public interest to hobble a chief of staff with lame-duck status, when the kidnapping scourge in Basilan and Sulu remains a threat and when peace negotiations with the Moro separatists hang in the balance? Not even the presumption of regularity can hide the stench of this administration?s many irregularities.