SND as concurrent AFP chief of staff
It was a rough and shaky beginning for the new AFP chief, Gen. Gilbert Gapay. In his first press conference following his installation as armed forces commander, he proposed that the implementing rules and regulations of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) include provisions that would allow authorities to regulate social media. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, expressing surprise at Gapay’s statement, immediately rebuked the AFP chief, saying that the ATA should not be used to regulate social media and added that any such provision would be a violation of the freedom of speech.
An old proverb comes to mind: “Big talk, big mistake, small talk, small mistake, no talk, no mistake.”
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My last column elicited a number of reactions from three groups: civilians, active military personnel, and retired officers. Most expressed concern with the revolving door situation and how the AFP was being utilized as an instrument of national defense and security.
Among the civilians, former senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr. wrote to say that during his time he filed legislation calling for a fixed three-year term for the AFP chief of staff. It got nowhere although a number of his colleagues shared his views and sentiments on the issue. In view of the frequent change in the AFP leadership for the past 20 years—a situation that has never been clearly explained to our people — Jun Magsaysay suggested that the SND or the secretary of national defense as concurrent AFP chief would be a better option if only for the fact that his staying in position for a reasonable period of time had much better chances than anyone in the military establishment.
The case of Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay is perhaps the best example of a Cabinet member who was both policymaker and concurrent administrator. Magsaysay’s primary concern was the survival of the nation in the face of impending disaster. In 1950, Hukbalahap (Huk) units had held the capitals of Tarlac and Laguna for several hours. They were on the offensive in Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, and Isabela. At that time, we were living in Caloocan and had to evacuate to Manila in view of reports that advance Huk elements were already approaching the city. Morale of the armed forces was at its lowest. Magsaysay got out of his offices in Manila and proceeded to move around, making unannounced visits to remote units, giving inspiration and encouragement to the troops, while taking disciplinary action against erring officers and men. In his first 30 days, he ordered the relief and investigation of 20 officers for various offenses ranging from abuse of authority to involvement in money rackets. These are activities not usually expected of Cabinet members. But it was precisely his hands-on approach that endeared him to the soldiers and to the common citizens. If we cannot have military men as AFP chiefs with a decent tenure of office, we should be open to other possibilities.
The officers in the active service were for the most part, cautious and prudent in their remarks. I fully understood their position.
As for the retired officers, most were for a fixed term of office — from two to three years — for the AFP chief. An interesting case study is that of Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz, PMA Class 1979, who served as commanding general, Philippine Army. More than 30 years ago in 1990, a young captain Arturo Ortiz was awarded the Medal for Valor (MFV), the highest and most coveted award in the AFP “for exceptional courage and high degree of leadership in the field of combat.” In 2010, he became the first holder of the MFV to be designated a major service commander. A few months later, he was offered the post of AFP chief of staff by President Benigno Aquino III, but he begged off saying, he “could contribute more to the organization if I would be allowed to remain as CG, Army so as to continue what I had started and undertake other plans and programs for the Army rather than be a short term AFP chief of staff.” We should all keep in mind the sterling example of service above self shown by General Ortiz.
It is unlikely that in the remaining two years of the present administration, remedial legislation would be enacted to allow for a fixed term of office for the AFP chief. The last year of the presidential term would be devoted to the electoral campaign. But we must continue to let our voices be heard until the necessary reforms are carried out.
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