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The case for extending AFP chief Gen. Bautista

/ 12:09 AM April 14, 2014

In April 1994, President Fidel V. Ramos appointed Gen. Arturo T. Enrile as AFP chief of staff. It was clear that Enrile would be reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56 years in June 1996 after completing a little over two years in the position. This was short of the 3-year tour of duty mentioned in Article 16, General Provisions, of the Constitution. These provisions, specifically Section 5.5, also indicate that “laws on retirement of military officers shall not allow extension of their service.”

On June 14, 1996, a week before Enrile’s 56th birthday, President Ramos issued a one-line directive to Defense Secretary Renato de Villa: “This is to confirm that the active service and appointment of General Arturo T. Enrile as Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines, shall continue until 30 November 1996, subject to the condition that he is still physically fit to render further efficient public service.” Malacañang followed up the directive with the explanation that no extension was involved and Enrile was merely being allowed to continue in office since he had not used up his 3-year term provided in the Constitution.

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“Continuance” or “extension”—it had the same effect. Enrile served up to Nov. 30, 1996, some six months beyond age 56.

What was the basis of FVR’s action on General Enrile?

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According to position papers submitted by Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Rene Cayetano (father of Senators Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano), as well as Justice Secretary Tito Guingona (father of Sen. TG Guingona), the records of the Constitutional Commission deliberations on the subject indicated the intention of the framers to exempt the chief of staff from the retirement policy covering military officers. In other words, they would allow the chief of staff to continue serving even beyond 56 years, but not exceeding a 3-year tenure. (This interpretation has never been declared unconstitutional.)

What were some of the reasons advanced to justify

Enrile’s stay in office?

• The security requirements for the coming Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting that was to be hosted by the Philippines in Subic.

• The AFP modernization program that was in its initial stages. A few months earlier, General Enrile spoke before a meeting of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, one of many think tanks in the US capital. He told the group that “gunboats and off-shore patrol vessels are the top naval priorities for his military. He also hoped to secure additional

C-130 aircraft, TPS32 radars for Hawk air defense systems, as well as Cobra attack helicopters.”

• The Spratlys—the Chinese were building up their positions on Mischief Reef, although claiming the facilities were primarily safe havens for their fishermen.

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Perhaps the real reason was related to the choice of Nov. 30 (National Heroes’ Day) as the retirement date for General Enrile. When I asked President Ramos why he chose Nov. 30, he implied that it was a day for heroes. Enrile had stood by the constitutional government during times of grave danger and crisis, and earned the trust and confidence of his commander in chief. Clearly, the presidential decision to extend Enrile came straight from the heart.

* * *

On July 20, some three months from today, Gen. Emmanuel Bautista is scheduled to retire as AFP chief of staff upon reaching age 56. He will have served in the

position for 18 months, so far the longest in the Aquino presidency. He has served with dedication and exhibited exemplary performance in his role as head of the military

organization.

The nation is facing serious threats aimed at undermining our territorial integrity. Perhaps it would be prudent to maintain the status quo for some time insofar as the chief of staff position is concerned, taking into account

the following:

• We have a newly-appointed Army commander, Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri. The Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Lauro Catalino dela Cruz, is retiring next week, and the Navy flag officer-in-command, Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano, is scheduled to leave by the end of the month. As the incoming service commanders assume their new responsibilities, it would be wise to keep the current AFP chief in place if only to provide continuity and stability for the military organization.

• The recently-signed Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro will benefit from continuity in the AFP leadership. General Bautista is the father of Oplan Bayanihan and has the trust and confidence of all the stakeholders involved in the agreement. His presence will serve to assure smooth implementation, on the ground, of agreed arrangements.

• A new agreement, the enhanced defense cooperation, is scheduled to be signed by the Philippines and the United States. In the agreement are key provisions reflecting full respect for Philippine sovereignty, nonpermanence of US troops, no military bases in the Philippines, and a prohibition against weapons of mass destruction. General Bautista has the experience and the maturity to oversee the execution of measures agreed upon.

As in the case of General Enrile, much depends on the personal chemistry between the officer and the commander in chief. We may put forth a number of good reasons for Bautista’s continuance in office, but if the chemistry is not there, come July we shall have a new AFP chief.

Some sources indicate that Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, current Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) chief, is the favorite to replace Bautista. Only recently,

Catapang was a leading candidate for Army chief, but Lady Fortune smiled on Major General Iriberri.

* * *

On April 25, the Philippine Air Force will hold its change of command ceremony with the retirement of Lt. Gen. Lauro “Larry” Catalino dela Cruz, who bows out after 38 years of military service.

For the first time in PAF history, this ceremony will be held at Fernando Air Base, Lipa City, instead of Villamor Air Base in Metro Manila. Larry’s tenure as Air Force chief saw the revival of flybys by Air Force planes to mark PAF activities. During previous occasions, static displays of air assets were the order of the day.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey F. Delgado, PMA Class 1982 and current deputy chief of staff for plans and programs (J-5 GHQ), is the frontrunner to succeed Dela Cruz.

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