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AFP chief of staff No. 11

/ 04:06 AM November 15, 2021

After barely three months in office that included some time under quarantine restrictions, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Jose Faustino Jr., retired from the military, having reached age 56, the compulsory retirement age for officers. His successor is Lt. Gen. Andres Centino, a batchmate at the Philippine Military Academy, both belonging to Class of 1988. It looks like Centino is the last AFP chief to be appointed by President Duterte and unlike most of his predecessors, he will be around just a wee bit longer since he retires in February 2023, one year, two months and 21 days away. He is the 11th chief of staff to be appointed in five and a half years of the current administration.

One problem with the proliferation of AFP chiefs—aside from having devalued the prestige, power and influence of the office—is that the hall at GHQ Camp Aguinaldo that is decorated with the photos of past AFP commanders will now have to be enlarged to accommodate more of the same. As Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana once mentioned to me, “Ang problema ay wala ng lugar para sa mga letrato nila.” (The problem is there’s no more space for all their pictures.)

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He failed to mention that the pension fund for military personnel may also be unduly burdened with more four-star retirees.

When shall we stop this charade that does not benefit the armed forces and places national security at great risk?

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What are the implications?

For Asean—Last year at the 14th Asean Defense Ministers’ Meeting on Defense Cooperation for a Cohesive and Responsive Asean, we declared that we would “intensify efforts to promote a cohesive and responsive Asean in adapting to geopolitical and geostrategic shifts through strengthening defense cooperation amongst Asean member states … including voluntary and non-binding contributions with assets remaining under national command and control.” But how can we strengthen cooperation and respond effectively, if the head of our defense forces is replaced every three months, or every six months, or even after a year? Who will provide the leadership and the guidance at the top for our service commanders?

For national security—We have allotted billions of our meager resources to end the longest-playing communist insurgency in the world. As explained every now and then, what is required is a holistic approach in tackling the problem. Unfortunately, the most important component of such an overall effort is without stable and continuing leadership. Unless this situation is remedied, there is little chance for an end to local armed conflicts.

West Philippine Sea—We are determined to defend our territorial integrity in the West Philippine Sea but we lack stable and continuing leadership in our armed forces, the organization tasked to undertake this responsibility. Who is going to take us seriously?

RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty—We are relying on this treaty signed 70 years ago for our security. The treaty has been dubbed as “the oldest, indispensable Pacific alliance.” But are we doing our part by adopting sound military practices? As I have mentioned in the past, when Mutual Defense Board (MDB) meetings are scheduled, the standing joke is who will be representing the AFP? Normally, the AFP chief of staff is the counterpart of the US co-chair of the MDB. The AFP chief should be embarrassed to attend under those circumstances.

* * *

Recently, I received a parcel from my niece in California. She sent me some books and mentioned the latest among her readings. It was a novel “The Island of Missing Trees” by a renowned Turkish writer Elif Shafak. In a recent interview about her book, Shafak said something that caught the attention of my niece: “We cannot repair if we do not remember.” How true! We cannot fix things if we do not know what happened or what is happening. It is important for all to remember.

Honestly I am not into novels, but out of curiosity I checked out Shafak. She has been described as Turkey’s most famous female writer, with an impressive biodata. Among her quotes were two that I would like to share with the reader: “When societies go backwards and slide into authoritarianism, nationalism and tribalism, machismo and sexism are also emboldened.” The second one: “It is tiring to be Turkish. The country is badly polarized, bitterly politicized…“ At times I feel like a Turk. My country is badly polarized, bitterly politicized.

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TAGS: AFP chief of staff, Andres Centino, Ramon J. Farolan, Reveille
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