Glimmer of hope for the Armed Forces
For the last 20 years, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been plagued by a “revolving door” practice that has seen the installation of more than 20 AFP chiefs of staff including, at one point, the appointment of three military chiefs in just one year. The practice resulted in a similar situation affecting other key positions in the organization. In 2012, a bill ratified by Congress providing for a fixed term of office for the AFP chief reached the desk of President Benigno Aquino III. Unfortunately, he vetoed the bill citing as basis the Constitution specifically Article XVI, Section 5 (5) that said “laws on retirement of military officers shall not allow extension of their service.” It should be noted that during the term of President Fidel V. Ramos, Gen. Arturo Enrile, the then AFP chief was allowed to stay in office beyond age 56 but not exceeding a three-year term. The Ramos decision was based on position papers submitted by chief presidential legal counsel Renato Cayetano and Justice Secretary Tito Guingona. Both papers pointed out that the records of the Constitutional Commission deliberations on Art. XVI indicated that the intention of the framers of the Constitution was actually to allow the AFP chief to serve beyond age 56 but not exceeding three years in the position. Enrile went on to head the Department of Transportation and Communications.
The Aquino presidential veto put an end to the last serious attempt to reform the system and provide a decent term for the AFP chief. What the law gave to every barangay head nationwide, was denied to the head of the Armed Forces, the primary organization tasked with looking after the defense of the state.
We must ask ourselves one question. Was the “revolving door” practice good for the institution and in a broader sense, for the nation?
One of the worst cases of abuse in the history of the Armed Forces took place during a period characterized by the frequent turnover of military chiefs. The actions of the US Customs Service brought to light the anomalous activities of individuals in the AFP comptroller office. An investigation resulted in the court martial and conviction of a general officer. The recent Jolo bombings took place soon after the change of leadership at the Western Mindanao Command. Enemy planning must have taken this event into account, aware of the accompanying revamp of personnel.
Today, the Philippines holds the dubious distinction of having one of the longest running insurgencies in the world. This is not to say that the frequent change of military leadership is mainly responsible for the current situation. But there can be no doubt that it is a major contributory factor in the continuing problem of insurgency, secessionist movements and outright banditry.
For some time now, there was this sinking feeling that the “revolving door” practice had become a permanent fixture in the life of the Armed Forces. But last month, a glimmer of hope for change appeared when Sen. Richard Gordon filed Senate Bill No. 1785. It aims to strengthen professionalism and continuity of policies by prescribing fixed terms for the AFP chief and other key officers including the superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy. It also raises the mandatory age of retirement for commissioned officers from 56 to 62 and provides for a more effective attrition system.
Briefly, the bill gives the AFP chief of staff, major service commanders including the commandant of the Marine Corps and other key officers a fixed term of office of three years. It singles out the PMA superintendent for a term of four years in recognition of the importance of this post in the education training and development of our young men and women destined for future leadership in the Armed Forces. This puts him at par with the president of state universities and colleges who have a term of four years with possible reappointment.
We thank Gordon for his initiative in addressing one of the most serious problems confronting the AFP. Sen. Franklin Drilon, from the minority side, provided much needed assistance in ironing out some of the more contentious issues in the bill while Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana added the weight of his office in support of the necessary changes. The bill has a long way to go. There are powerful forces who seek to maintain the status quo. But, we must take the first steps for the difficult journey ahead if we are to have a truly professional military organization.
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