The enemy within
NEW ARMED Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr. has responded vigorously to the marching order given to him by President Aquino “to continue the reforms” of his predecessor, Gen. Ricardo David, a very tactful reference to the corruption scandal facing the AFP as a result of the multi-million military comptrollership scandal. Initially saying that the President’s instruction was “very challenging,” Oban has since vowed to stamp out corruption in the AFP by making fiscal and procurement reforms the cornerstone of his term. “I pledge to strengthen the procurement process and ensure accountability of every resource manager of the AFP,” Oban vowed during the turnover ceremonies Monday. Referring to the alleged misuse of funds for bilateral military exercises and for various missions undertaken by the AFP for United Nations international peacekeeping, he added, “I pledge to safeguard funds from all sources, including that of Balikatan and the United Nations, and especially those coming from our taxes, the blood and sweat of our people, and I shall hold myself accountable for their proper and effective utilization.” Oban also promised to go after grafters in the military, saying, “I pledge . . . the . . . prosecution of those who are not willing to work on these same pledges.”
Tough words, one might say, but what is new and refreshing is that Oban has acknowledged the big problem facing the military: the problem of credibility. Unlike former chiefs of staff who, when confronted with allegations of military roguery or corruption, would look the other way, or worse, fight off the accusations by denouncing the detractors and critics as enemies of the state, Oban’s words indicate that the top brass now realize that the real enemy is within.
What may go against Oban is time. He only has until December to formulate and carry out his reforms. Because of the compulsory retirement law, he must step down before the year is over. Another leading contender to the AFP post, Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz, had reportedly begged off precisely because he would be retiring by November.
But though pressed for time, Oban may yet deliver. He is expected to deliver at the very least the initial stages of reforms that would be for the following chief of staff to consolidate and sustain. In a way, he could take heart from the example of his predecessor, General David, who helped oversee the constitutional turnover of power last year and who cooperated with congressional inquiries into the military fund scandal. David had said he would get no going-away present when he retired, in reference to the large amounts of money allegedly given to retiring chiefs of staff in the previous administration.
Oban can sustain that reform, fine-tuning it, making it more effective and lasting. To all indications, he is the right man for the job. Trained in engineering at the University of Santo Tomas, he knows the value of laying the proper foundation. Having also gone to management school, he knows how to evaluate the available resources at his command and how to employ them effectively, minimizing possible risks and losses. A systems expert, he can identify the bottlenecks in the organization as well as those spots where graft would be most easy to commit.
In fact, he has come up with very concrete proposals to reform the system. He has pledged to computerize procurement to document all transactions, set up institutional checks and balances, and undertake unannounced audits. And as further evidence that he has done his homework, he has vowed to implement the recommendations of the Feliciano Commission that investigated the 2003 Oakwood mutiny.
But perhaps the best thing going for Oban is the fact he’s well-respected by both rank and file and the officers corps. Despite being a systems person, he’s no glorified clerk. As a combat pilot, he has exposure in the field; he knows operations. In fact, it is said that President Aquino took note of his accomplishment in leading the fight against the insurgents when he was head of Basa Air Base in Pampanga. His experience on the ground does not only bolster his credibility among men, it also means that he knows that the solution to the conflict is not purely military. This should enable him to sensibly tackle the other marching order of the President: “to strengthen the peace programs of the AFP.”
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