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Retracing our roots

/ 12:32 AM December 21, 2015

TODAY THE Armed Forces of the Philippines marks its 80th foundation anniversary, even as it bids farewell to President Aquino who, for the last five years, served as its commander in chief. This year, for the first time, the ceremonies will be held at Clark Air Base, Mabalacat City, in Pampanga instead of at Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo, home of AFP general headquarters in Quezon City. The event will be highlighted by an aerial flyby involving some 50 aircraft, many of which were acquired under the auspices of the present administration.

I recall that during an earlier foundation day anniversary, President Aquino vowed to acquire more planes, more ships, and more equipment to sustain the ongoing modernization program of the military organization. And he kept his word. No other president has done more than the incumbent President to upgrade the capabilities and strength of our armed forces. Only last week, he led the AFP in ushering into a new jet age the Philippine Air Force with the acquisition of Korean-made jet fighter trainers.

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While he has done much in terms of upgrading the capabilities of the AFP, he has also contributed to the stagnation of the armed forces as a professional military organization.

At the start of his presidency, there was a glimmer of hope that he would put an end to the pernicious “revolving door” policy of his predecessor in the appointment of the AFP chief of staff. However, in January 2012, he vetoed a bill that had been ratified by both houses of Congress, providing for a fixed term of office for the AFP chief and the service commanders. No reason, no explanation was given for his actions. Essentially, he maintained the same record as his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, who had 11 AFP chiefs in her 10 years in office. It served the interests of Mr. Aquino and Arroyo to hold the entire officer corps hostage as the scramble for position and favor made it almost impossible to create a sense of loyalty to institution while making it easier to develop the same to a particular individual.

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To my mind, the “revolving door” policy on the leadership of key AFP commands has been extremely detrimental to the organization not only in terms of efficiency and effectiveness but, more so, in terms of promoting and enhancing the professionalism of the AFP officer corps.

One of the worst abuses in the history of the organization brought about by frequent changes in command occurred in 2002 when the AFP had three chiefs of staff installed in just one year. The new appointees had just begun to warm their seats when the time came for them to bid goodbye to the troops. With such a fluid situation at the top, it was the perfect environment for underlings to engage in mischief.

US Customs authorities confiscated undeclared foreign exchange being brought into the United States by family members of an AFP comptroller. The discovery would have far-reaching consequences for the AFP, leading to the tragic self-inflicted death of a former AFP chief of staff.

As we approach another presidential election, one of the key questions to ask the various contenders is their position on the “revolving door” issue affecting the military leadership. As Washington SyCip, noted management guru, pointed out: “Is it possible to carry out reforms in an organization as large as the armed forces when there is such a rapid change in the leadership?”

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The current celebration of AFP Day is based on the enactment of the National Defense Act by the National Assembly during the Commonwealth period (1935-1941). The bill, with then Sen. Camilo Osias of La Union as its principal opponent, was passed at midnight of Dec. 20, 1935. President Manuel L. Quezon signed the measure into law the following morning, Dec. 21, 1935.

There is room for reasonable debate and discussions on the proper date for the observance of AFP Day. Consider the following events:

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• The Philippine Army marks the establishment of the organization on March 22, 1897, when at the Tejeros Convention, members of the Magdalo and Magdiwang factions met to dissolve the Katipunan and prepare for a republic. Artemio Ricarte was elected captain general of the Philippine Revolutionary Army, a position comparable to the present office of AFP chief of staff. Ricarte, also known by his nom de guerre “Vibora,” is hailed as the “Father of the Philippine Army.” He is best known for his refusal to take an oath of allegiance to the United States after the end of the Philippine-American War.

• The Philippine Navy was organized in 1898 after the First Philippine Republic was inaugurated on June 12, 1898, with Pascual Ledesma as director for the Navy, the first such appointment in the revolutionary government.

• The Academia Militar, now the Philippine Military Academy, was organized in October 1898 upon the recommendation of Gen. Antonio Luna under the provisions of a presidential decree issued by then President Emilio Aguinaldo.

With the Army, the Navy and the Philippine Military Academy having been established in 1897 and 1898, respectively, how could AFP Day be reckoned from legislation passed in 1935 under a Commonwealth administration beholden to a foreign power? Celebrating AFP Day on Dec. 21 is completely out of sync with the realities of our history. We continue to be held hostage to our colonial past. There will be objections from sectors of society that frown on changing historical dates; we acknowledge and respect such arguments.

But if President Diosdado Macapagal did not decide to transfer Philippine Independence Day from July 4, 1946 to June 12, 1898, we would still be marking Philippine Independence Day in accordance with the restoration of our freedoms by the United States rather than as a result of our own efforts and sacrifices against the Spanish colonial masters.

In like manner, if President Corazon Aquino did not issue Presidential Proclamation No. 397, we would still be marking Air Force Day on May 2, 1936, the day an American pilot, Lt. William Lee, test flew a Stearman biplane, ushering the Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC) to actual flight operations. Instead, Air Force Day is celebrated on July 2, 1989, the day the PAAC was redesignated as the Philippine Air Force and raised to major command status in the AFP.

In calling for a reassessment of “Araw ng Kagitingan,” which marks the Fall of Bataan, the Magdalo boys in Congress, Representatives Gary Alejano and Francisco Acedillo, are on the right track. We need to revisit the past and to retrace our roots if we are to discover the truth about ourselves.

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TAGS: AFP, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Military, opinion, roots
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