After three months, another AFP chief
When I was a young boy, Jan. 6 was celebrated as the Feast of the Three Wise Men, or the Three Kings — Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior. It was a special day for kids, much like Christmas, since one could expect to find some money in our shoes upon getting up from bed in the morning. The money symbolized the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh that the Three Kings laid at the foot of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem centuries ago. As we start another year, may you all have a little more money in your shoes, better health to enjoy your wealth, and much more happiness in your hearts.
Last Saturday, Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., former head of the Eastern Mindanao Command took over from Gen. Noel Clement, who was AFP chief of staff for three months, one of the shortest tenures of any AFP commander. The new AFP chief will reach compulsory retirement in seven months, on Aug. 3, 2020, to be exact. He is the seventh AFP chief of staff in three and a half years under the current administration, for an average of two per year.
No one has completed a year in office. Class seniority has been strictly followed, with three coming from the same batch. While seniority is important, too much weight on this factor, whether class or individual, tends to stifle the daring, innovative spirit that is the mark of a dynamic, action-oriented organization. Think of the Israeli Defense Forces. The longest-serving AFP chief of staff was Gen. Romeo Espino, who stayed in office for nine years, six months. A good man, but some folks feel he had too long a stint. Espino was a product of the ROTC program along with generals Alfredo Santos, Rigoberto Atienza and Fabian Ver. After the stint of General Ver, all AFP chiefs have come from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) except for Fidel Ramos and Narciso Abaya, both West Pointers (US Military Academy). The youngest AFP chief of staff was Gen. Manuel Yan, 48, who served for three years and five months before joining the diplomatic service as ambassador to Thailand. He was the valedictorian of PMA Class 1941.
Certainly, a number of individuals have benefited from the “revolving door”policy that now appears to be institutionalized in the AFP. Unfortunately, it is the organization that suffers in terms of the absence of definitive leadership and vision that can only make accomplishment of its mission more difficult and almost impossible. The insurgency in our country, which has existed for the last 50 years, shall go on and possibly thrive under present circumstances for it is the AFP that remains at the forefront of any anti-insurgency, anti-terrorism campaign. Without strong and stable leadership, we can only expect at best maintaining the status quo. And this means that the New People”s Army, Abu Sayyaf, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Islamic State jihadists remain dangerous threats to the security of our nation.
We find it difficult to understand the rationale for the “revolving door” policy of government. Is there something we have failed to appreciate about having short-term AFP leaders? The defense department should be able to enlighten our people on this issue if only to show that we have adopted a correct policy aimed at enhancing national security and defense programs.
If the retirement law for the AFP is defective, then that law should be amended to allow for a fixed term of office for the AFP chief of staff, the major service commanders and the superintendent of the PMA.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me point out once again, that the barangay captain in our neighborhood has a fixed term of three years, with possible reelection. My parish priest has a term of three years or more. Most bureau directors — and the AFP is a bureau of the defense department — stay in office unless promoted and moved, or reach retirement age. But the AFP chief of staff who is responsible for planning, developing and executing the national defense program is replaced after just a few months, maybe a year in office. A three-year term would spell stability, maturity and consistency for the armed forces.
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