The curious case of Delfin Lorenzana
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has made declarations that are contrary to President Duterte’s pronouncements on several controversies. But unlike other officials whose minor whimpers of discontent led to their dismissal by the President, Lorenzana has gotten away with his dissonant statements.
Who is Delfin Lorenzana and why is he immune from the President’s intolerance against dissent?
Like Mr. Duterte, Lorenzana is a native Mindanaoan, born in Midsayap, Cotabato. He graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1973 and he retired from the military as an Army major general. He commanded the AFP Special Operations Command, the Second Scout Ranger Battalion, and the Light Armored Brigade. He served in the Presidential Security Group under the Cory Aquino, Estrada and Arroyo presidencies. He received a ribbon for his involvement in the 1986 Edsa Revolution.
Lorenzana has had long experience dealing with the United States. He served as defense and Armed Forces attaché from 2002-2004, monitoring military bilateral relations between the Philippines and the United States. He went on to become the Presidential Representative for Veterans Affairs at the Philippine Embassy in Washington from 2004 to 2015.
Lorenzana probably cemented his close ties with President Duterte when, as commander of the Second Scout Ranger Battalion in Davao City, he became, it is claimed, “instrumental in clearing the city of insurgents, sparrow units and other criminal groups.”
What are the instances when Lorenzana made statements noticeably in conflict with the declarations of the President? Let us
review some of the recent incidents.
On Nov. 27, President Duterte declared that he will create a “Duterte Death Squad” that will hunt and kill loiterers, prospective New People’s Army (NPA) recruits, and active NPA rebels.
The next day, Lorenzana warned of the “great danger of abuse or mistakes” from such a death squad. He cautioned that there might be mistakes in identifying targets, or that suspects may be targeted because of personal grudges.
On Nov. 20, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Manila on a state visit. He was warmly welcomed by a visibly charmed President Duterte. The visit was part of Mr. Duterte’s efforts to make Filipinos warm up to China as he pivots to a closer alliance with the Asian superpower.
Two days after the visit, Lorenzana made three revelations that surely worsened Filipino animosity against China: First, Lorenzana said he deferred sending a Navy deployment to the disputed Scarborough Shoal in 2016 to celebrate the Philippine maritime arbitration victory against China, because President Duterte had told him it might offend China; second, China tried to block the Philippines’ plan to repair its runway and other facilities on Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys, and; third, when the Chinese ambassador learned that Lorenzana was planning to visit Pag-asa Island, “he came to me and tried to deceive me from going there.”
On Aug. 31, President Duterte voided the amnesty extended to Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV in 2010, and ordered the military and police to arrest the senator.
But the military did not act to enforce the arrest order. Lorenzana even revealed that Solicitor General Jose Calida personally obtained from him the Trillanes amnesty records, lending credence to the senator’s complaint of persecution. When the trial court denied the government’s request for an arrest warrant against Trillanes, Lorenzana declared that the court’s refusal to issue a warrant must be obeyed.
Even in past administrations, one cannot recall of a Cabinet member who so openly contradicted the president with the same frequency as Lorenzana has done, and wasn’t sacked in the process.
Is President Duterte wary of grumblings in the military if he boots out Lorenzana? Does the defense chief command a strong following in the military that can seriously undermine the President’s hold on power if he is fired?
The case of Delfin Lorenzana remains an enigma. It’s a curious case waiting to be explained and uncovered.
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