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Incoming defense chief Gen. Delfin Lorenzana

IN A recent article on US-Philippine relations, Ernest Bower, a senior adviser for the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was quoted as saying that President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s “seemingly warming up to China” is not a cause for any concern (“US closely ‘watching’ Duterte, says expert,” Front Page, 6/8/16). “What we are watching is who he selects to be in his Cabinet.” The article concludes by saying that “retired General Delfin Lorenzana’s designation as the next defense chief is considered to be a silver lining in what is apparently a shallow bench in the security cluster of the Duterte Cabinet.”

Among the incoming Cabinet members of the new administration, Lorenzana is probably one of the least known. Many of the other nominees held high profile positions in the past—Ben Diokno at budget, Leonor Briones at treasury, Sonny Dominguez at agriculture, Art Tugade at the Clark Development Corp., and Perfecto Yasay at the Securities and Exchange Commission. In the case of Lorenzana, he spent more than 10 years abroad serving as defense attaché, and presidential representative and head of the Office of Veterans Affairs at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC.

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In his first interview with the media since the announcement of his designation, Lorenzana traced his roots to the Ilocos Region where his grandparents come from. Both mother and father are natives of Pangasinan. In 1936, they migrated to Mindanao, settling down in Cotabato (now Maguindanao) where Delfin was born. He grew up in Parang, attending Notre Dame High School, and later finished two years of college at Notre Dame University in Cotabato City before entering the Philippine Military Academy in 1969. After graduation from the academy in 1973, he joined the Philippine Army although his first choice of branch of service was the Air Force. An accident during his senior year resulted in vision problems bringing to an end his dreams of flying airplanes.

In 1998, as brigade commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, 6th Division of the Philippine Army, he was responsible for the capture of kidnap for ransom leader, Tahir Alonto and his group with the safe recovery of several hostages. During the all-out Armed Forces of the Philippines offensive against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front from 1998 to 2000, he led operations resulting in the fall of three MILF camps aside from Camp Abubakar, and continued to maintain peace and order in his area of responsibility, enabling local and national government offices to pursue development projects without interference from lawless elements.

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One of his more remarkable accomplishments took place in May 2001 when he served as commander of the Light Armored Brigade and concurrent ground commander of Task Force Libra. With three battalions of troops and assisted by Philippine National Police antiriot elements, he prevented the capture and occupation of Malacañang by pro-Erap forces attempting to unseat newly-installed President Gloria Arroyo. The slightest miscalculation or poorly coordinated reaction to aggressive moves by the Erap mob could have easily resulted in bloodshed and violence. Lorenzana’s cool and mature handling of the delicate situation saved the day for the nation.

Where is the Duterte connection?

In 1987, as head of the 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion stationed in Davao City, he supported newly-elected Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in clearing the city of insurgents, sparrow units, and criminal syndicates. This close relationship has persisted through the years even when Lorenzana was no longer operating in the Davao area. An early working association with the mayor appears to be a common thread that runs through his appointees, particularly in the field of security and police operations.

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Among the advocacies I have pursued in recent years is that of providing the chief of staff of the AFP and its service commanders with fixed terms of office in order to provide strength and stability in command for leaders of the organization. A fixed term of office would not preclude the commander in chief from terminating their services should they be found incompetent or corrupt. The revolving door policy of past presidents has damaged the institution more than anything else. General Lorenzana fully agrees with these ideas and will work to have this system in place in a Duterte administration.

In this regard, there are reports of a possible change of leadership in the AFP come June 30. General Lorenzana’s position is that there is nothing official from President-elect Duterte on this matter. If we are to make changes simply for the sake of change, we cannot expect positive results. We only add one more picture to hang on the wall reserved for AFP chiefs of staff at the GHQ building in Camp Aguinaldo.

Lorenzana’s immediate concern is the Abu Sayyaf problem in Basilan and Sulu. The beheading of the second Canadian national has been portrayed as a slap on the face of the incoming President, daring him to prove his toughness. Unless drastic action is taken we may not be able to save another foreign hostage from beheading. This time the victim is a Norwegian.

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The presence of 10 battalions consisting of over 5,000 troops in the area is not going to change matters. Past experience has shown that pouring more troops into the battlefield makes for great headlines, but they have never produced the desired results. If we cannot solve the problem of kidnap-for-ransom activities being carried out in our backyard, how do we expect to confront the big bully in the neighborhood? In the eyes of the world, we have failed miserably against some 300 or more so-called bandits.

A new approach is called for. We might have to set aside concerns for human rights and due process, at least for the time being. Unconventional methods are needed to address unconventional situations. Our people will accept this approach for a limited period, but the AFP must produce positive results before patience runs out. That is also the message from the recent elections; people don’t care much about nice guys. They would rather have simple folks who may be rough on the edges but who are capable of delivering on basic needs, particularly security and order.

General Lorenzana has a golden opportunity to set things right. From what I see, the President-elect tends to allow his appointees the widest leeway in running their respective departments. With his military background, his negotiating skills and experience, plus graduate work in operations research at Ateneo, strategic studies at Australian National University in Canberra, and in business economics at the University of Asia and the Pacific, Lorenzana should be able to provide new directions and encourage fresh ideas and initiatives that would enable the department to better confront the challenges we now face as a nation.

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TAGS: Cabinet, defense, Delfin Lorenzana, Duterte, opinion, Rodrigo Duterte
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