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Soldiers in mufti

/ 05:05 AM August 05, 2019

Last Saturday, Virginia Balmaceda Castro, widow of former Rizal provincial fiscal, Mauro Castro, celebrated her 90th birthday. In a grand family reunion of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she was joined by sisters Gloria B. Gozum, Rosemarie B. Lazaro and Erlinda B. Calabio (late hubby was Fred Calabio, PMA Class 1951) who flew in from Adelaide, New South Wales, for the happy occasion. Virginia’s father, Cornelio Balmaceda, will be remembered as one of our greatest administrators who secured for Manila the Asian Development Bank headquarters in a tight contest against heavyweight Tokyo.

“Soldiers in mufti” refers to military officers in civilian clothes or in a broader sense, carrying out basically civilian duties.

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When Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was inaugurated as President of the Republic in June 2016, his first appointments of retired military officers to Cabinet positions were Gen. Delfin Lorenzana as secretary of national defense and Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. as national security adviser. After his first Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya retired, he immediately tasked him to head the National Irrigation Administration. Soon after Gen. Eduardo Año was appointed first as officer in charge and later secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government. Gen. Roy Cimatu assumed office as head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, while former Army chief Lt. Gen. Rolando Bautista took over the Department of Social Welfare and Development. The latest military addition to the Duterte Cabinet is former senator Gregorio Honasan II, one of the leading figures in the 1986 Edsa Revolution, as secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology.

That makes six retired soldiers holding some of the most important Cabinet positions in government. These military officers have a few things in common: they are all graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), they all belong to only one AFP branch of service, the Philippine Army, and none of them are lawyers. At the sub-Cabinet level you will find even more retired military officers in various executive positions and as heads of agencies, again mostly PMAyers. As I have said in the past, no other institution of the land has contributed so many of its graduates for public service in recent years.

We are honored by the Commander in Chief’s unprecedented display of trust and confidence in our fellow soldiers. We are aware that no other president has provided so much for the men in uniform and we are grateful.

Some folks have expressed concern over the increasing number of retired military officers being appointed to civilian positions, citing fears about the possible loss of civilian supremacy over the military.

Well, for so long we have endeavored to uphold this so-called democratic principle of civilian supremacy over the military and what has it brought the nation? Somehow, I am reminded of the observations made by the late management guru, Washington Sycip, on the state of affairs in our country. In 2008, marking the centennial of the University of the Philippines (UP), he spoke in Diliman and proceeded to propound a number of questions.

For 46 years after we left the US umbrella, UP graduates (mostly lawyers) have occupied the presidency and numerous executive positions in government. He asked, “Why are we in such a mess?”

“We were told that with our advantages of being a Christian nation and a democracy, we would be next to Japan, the leading nation in East Asia. Today we find ourselves in a steadily declining position regardless of what measure we go by: poverty index, per capita spending on education, corruption ranking, peace and order — the list continues.” We can barely stay ahead of Cambodia in terms of economic progress and development.

“In spite of our large population we have the lamentable distinction of being the only major South East Asian nation unable to win an Olympic gold medal.” Tiny Singapore and Hong Kong have already won their golds.

With all the talented people we have, Sycip asked, why have we not been able to produce a Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, a
Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, a Gen. Park Chung-hee of South Korea, or a Deng Xiaoping of China?

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“The Asian Development Bank released a report that the Philippines and India who claim to be democracies, lag behind East Asian countries in reducing poverty. China and Vietnam both authoritarian states, are the two countries that have rapidly reduced poverty. Are there lessons to be learned here?”

These are some of the issues that should concern us instead of lamenting the possible loss of civilian supremacy over the military. All our “people-powered” revolutions have so far been bloodless affairs. Unless we come up with the right answers soon, we may not be so lucky the next time around.

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