Five AFP chiefs in over 900 days
The most striking, most visible and to some observers the most amusing, aspect of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is the short shelf life of our chiefs of staff, resulting in among other things, the proliferation of retiring four-star generals.
During the 10-year reign of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, she appointed 11 AFP chiefs. Arroyo was followed by President Noynoy Aquino who had six AFP chiefs, possibly seven if one includes an acting chief of staff at the end of his term. To date, President Duterte has appointed five AFP chiefs in the short period of just over 900 days.
For the entire 18 years of the 21st century, the AFP has had 22 chiefs, each one serving for a few months to just over a year. In the history of our Armed Forces, the longest-serving chiefs were Gen. Manuel Yan who served for three years and eight months, Gen. Fabian Ver, four years, and Gen. Romeo Espino, almost 10 years, all during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos. Let me add that the first chief of staff with the title of “captain general,” was Gen. Artemio Ricarte who refused to pledge allegiance to the United States and therefore, was barred from returning to his country after the Philippine-American War.
The short shelf life of AFP chiefs is actually nothing new. But we are now in the 21st century and we aspire to be a modern, professional organization. The time has long passed for us to correct this weird and anomalous situation. We should bear in mind what a distinguished management guru, Washington Sycip, once said, that if we want reforms and proper planning for the future, we must not accept executives with one- or two-year terms.
The role of the AFP chief of staff
The AFP chief of staff is the highest military officer in the Armed Forces, answering directly to the President. He executes commands given directly by the President to the Armed Forces, in relation to military operations. He is responsible for planning, developing, and executing the national defense program prescribed by the secretary of national defense (SND). For his part, the SND as alter ego of the President, exercises “executive supervision” over the AFP; his role is primarily in policymaking.
With such an important part to play in national defense and security matters, the AFP chief is absolutely entitled to a fixed term of office of at least three years. His vital role has been recognized several times in the past. In 2012, the 15th Congress passed a bill providing for a fixed term of office for the AFP chief and major service commanders. Unfortunately, President Noynoy Aquino vetoed the bill. In 2016, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel revived the same proposal but it got nowhere. Under the present House leadership, there is little chance for such a measure to prosper. Nevertheless, we must continue to press for reforms in the interest of national security.
When Secretary Delfin Lorenzana took over as defense chief in July 2016, I had the opportunity to spend time with him, discussing some of the issues facing the AFP. High on the list was the quick turnover of AFP chiefs, resulting in very little planning for the future. He was very receptive, expressing agreement with my views and promising to take action to correct the situation. He noted with a smile and some laughter, that the wall at GHQ where the framed photos of former AFP chiefs is located, is now filled up and there might be some problem accommodating future chiefs. But after two-and-a-half years on the job, apparently his voice has been drowned out by resurgent voices from the past that favor the status quo. And so, we continue with the revolving door.
Another issue that we discussed was the revival of the ROTC program. We shall never be able to match the military hardware and technological prowess of neighboring countries but if we have a citizen army of young people endowed with a sense of discipline and patriotism, we can make life difficult for outside forces who seek to dominate us. Again Secretary Lorenzana agreed with the ROTC revival program. But so far, after much talk and paper-pushing, nothing concrete has come out to jump-start the program.
Many chiefs, but not enough Indians
Today the AFP has a total of 180 generals. The current strength of the organization is plus or minus 144,000 officers and men. Avoiding a sophisticated analysis and using simple math, this comes up to a ratio of one general per 800 warm bodies. The Army alone has 98 generals and the current Army strength is roughly 90,000-95,000. This means one general for 970 men. Many staff positions are occupied by general officers. Many of our units are undermanned although star-rank positions are being filled up. The Army now has more battalions, brigades, and divisions than at any time in the past.
The question that must be raised is why do we have the longest-running insurgency in the world, an insurgency that recently marked its 50th anniversary with much fanfare and propaganda?
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.