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New AFP chief out in three months

/ 04:05 AM September 30, 2019

The invitation read: “The Armed Forces of the Philippines with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte as Guest of Honor and Presiding Officer cordially invites you to the Armed Forces of the Philippines Change of Command Ceremony and Testimonial Review in Honor of General Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr., AFP Chief of Staff.”

For the last three years, I have received six of these invitations. They are accompanied by an orange car pass and a blue diagram of seating arrangements. At the Lapu-Lapu grandstand of Camp Aguinaldo, they have placed me with former secretaries of national defense, former AFP chiefs and former major service commanders.

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This Change of Command Ceremony at the highest level of the AFP should be an event eliciting much excitement, enthusiasm and emotion among the officers and men. It is especially true for classmates and family members of the honorees. But when it is carried out too often — six changes in three years — it loses much of its meaning and significance. Change of Command signifies new blood, a bold vision for the future dynamic ideas and programs being injected into the organization. But with a tour of duty of from six months to a year, or even less, there is not much to expect and nothing to get excited about.

This time, I sent in my regrets and, apparently, even the Commander in Chief decided to skip the event, leaving Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to do the honors for him. According to presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, this was due to the President’s “punishing schedule of official and social events affecting slightly his body temperature.” As I can recall, it was the first time a Commander in Chief was absent from turnover rites of the AFP high command.

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The new AFP chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Noel Clement, PMA Class 1985, will be retiring on Jan. 5, 2020, giving him just over three months in office. He will celebrate Christmas and New Year with the troops, and his New Year call on the secretary of national defense will also serve as his last. In a few weeks’ time, his speechwriters will be drafting a farewell message for another Change of Command Ceremony.

The AFP is now a source of embarrassment for the nation. Foreign diplomats with their military attachés are guests at Change of Command ceremonies, and they ask themselves, how can any organization be effective with such a rapid turnover of leadership, not only at the top but also at the area and division command levels? The country has a long-running insurgency, and the military leadership is a revolving door.
At Mutual Defense Board conferences with US officials, the standing joke is that we have a new chief of staff for almost
every meeting.

Under these circumstances, one could ask, where is the AFP headed for in the years ahead? When Secretary Lorenzana was new in office, I asked him about his views on the frequent change in AFP leadership. He said he wanted more stability and continuity of command, but apparently, on this issue, his voice does not carry much weight and other voices appear to have
the President’s ear.

I have devoted a number of my columns to this subject because I believe in the importance and the necessity of a fixed term of office for the AFP chief, the major service commanders (Army, Air Force and Navy) and also for the post of Philippine Military Academy superintendent. A fixed term of three years for the AFP chief and two years for the service commanders will go a long way in providing stability and continuity of command, as well as sustainability of reforms necessary for the AFP to fulfill its constitutional mandate as “the protector of the people and the State.”

If we are truly serious about providing change, the bills submitted to Congress in the past on this issue can be easily revived and certified as urgent. Without an AFP chief in position for a given period, the goal of ending the NPA insurgency during the President’s time in office will remain difficult and demanding, if not impossible. This is not to say that a fixed term for our key commanders will automatically bring about success, but it would be a logical step in the right direction. Many of our AFP chiefs of staff were competent and dedicated officers. But they were not allowed the opportunity to serve long enough in the position to truly make a difference.

The ball is now in the hands of Congress and the Commander in Chief. Only they can stop the revolving door of the AFP.

[email protected]

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TAGS: AFP chief, change of command, Noel Clement, Ramon Farolan, Reveille
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