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Editorial

‘Bullshit’

/ 05:30 AM October 12, 2018

The usually mild-mannered ex-general bristled at the charge of “militarization” aired by the former social welfare secretary over the President’s designation of the about-to-retire commanding general of the Philippine Army as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

“Bullshit!” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said, in response to professor Judy Taguiwalo’s criticism of Lt. Gen. Rolando Joselito Bautista’s appointment.

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“Everybody should have the chance to serve the government whether you are military or not. Why single out the military? Wala ba kaming karapatan mag-service sa gobyerno (Don’t we have the right to render government service)?”

On its own terms, this outburst seems like a reasonable response to an unjustified provocation. Government service is not off-limits to military men. Indeed, “everybody should have the chance to serve the government whether you are military or not.”

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But on closer look, the intemperate remarks are deeply out of character for a former professional soldier like Lorenzana. Since the start of the Duterte administration, Lorenzana has proven to be competent and circumspect, and cognizant of the limits of the military. He has resisted some of President Duterte’s own intemperate suggestions to the military leadership—including the repeated appeal to support a revolutionary government—precisely out of this sense, that the Armed Forces of the Philippines cannot break the bonds that tie it to the constitutional order that created it.

His aggrieved remarks may have been a response to what he perceived as a slur on the reputation of a fellow general. In generalizing (pun not intended) his defense of Bautista, however, he ends up making unreasonable assumptions.

By definition, a military officer about to retire, like Bautista, has already rendered government service. He is not being denied his chance to serve, since he has in fact already served. What is being questioned is his second or continuing opportunity to serve in government. There’s a major difference. The principle is fundamental, and included as a state policy in the Constitution: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service….”

The issue, then, is about the virtual monopoly of ranking officers of both the military and the Philippine National Police on access to opportunities for public service within the power of the President. It is not about Bautista per se—although it is fair to ask what kind of expertise he, the general in charge of the country’s largest military unit, brings to the office of social welfare secretary. It is about President Duterte’s often indulged habit of appointing ex-military men and ex-police officers to high positions.

In June 2017, only a year in office, the President had already appointed 59 retired officers from the AFP and PNP to positions of great responsibility. That total has only gone up in the second year of the Duterte administration.

The President has not been coy about why he prefers to appoint these retired officers, especially retired military generals: Because they follow orders, he has said (again and again and again, in speech after speech). He has appointed former chiefs of staff, such as Roy Cimatu (environment secretary). But he has also appointed less senior officials, but with a close connection to him, such as former Army major Jason Aquino, erstwhile administrator of the National Food Authority (NFA).

Now even the President concedes that Aquino was ineffective at the NFA. Other members of his official family had harsher words to describe Aquino’s performance, or lack of it. But aren’t former soldiers appointed precisely because, as the President said, they follow orders? Whose orders did Aquino follow, that led to the rice crisis?

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The lesson should be clear: Retired officers from the military and the police have no monopoly on competence or indeed on love of country and dedication to public service. Why should they enjoy that virtual monopoly on appointments to high office?

Seen from a perspective higher than the one that Lorenzana used, the pattern of appointments does reveal an apparent militarization of civilian government offices—the same thing the dictator Ferdinand Marcos perpetrated after he declared martial rule. Now that there are attempts to pass laws that recall onerous aspects of the Marcos regime, such as the campaign to Marcosify the Human Security Act of 2007, this militarization of the civilian bureaucracy must be resisted and denounced for what it really is: old Marcos bullshit.

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TAGS: Delfin Lorenzana, DSWD Secretary, opinion, Philippine politics, Philippines, politic, Rolando Joselito Bautista
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