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Too many AFP chiefs is counterproductive

/ 12:11 AM October 03, 2016

SURIGAO del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel recently revived a bill providing for a fixed 3-year term for the AFP chief of staff. In October 2011 a similar measure was passed by the 15th Congress, but it was vetoed by then President Benigno Aquino III.

In putting forth his proposal, Pimentel said: “Over the last 30 years, the AFP has had 28 chiefs of staff who each served an average of 12 months. In the case of our last 10 chiefs of staff, each actually served an average of only seven months. The quick turnover of AFP chiefs has become counterproductive—even somewhat disruptive.”

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Retired general Joel Hinlo, in a letter to the editor last Sept. 27, expressed the view that “Aside from being disruptive, the present setup is very expensive. Imagine retiring seven 4-star generals in a span of four years.” This affects tremendously the AFP pension system that is now facing serious scrutiny in view of the heavy burden it imposes on the military budget.

For almost a decade now, I have been speaking out about the importance and the need for a fixed term not only for the AFP chief of staff but also for the major service commanders, meaning, the Army, Air Force and the Navy. Most modern military organizations follow this principle. In this part of the world, only the Philippines has a military leader who can say “Hello,” and “Farewell” to the troops within a one-year period. In fact, the present AFP chief, Gen. Ricardo Visaya, bids farewell next month after saying “Hello” last July. And according to an AFP spokesperson, we expect the AFP to crush the Abu Sayyaf by December this year.

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There are two possible reasons why politicians in our country prefer the revolving-door concept over the fixed term for an AFP chief of staff.

One, they fear the possibility of an individual becoming too powerful by developing a closely knit network within the organization with the ability to counter, if not overthrow, the existing power structure.

Second, they view the position of AFP chief as one of the goodies to be shared by as many of their favorites as possible. And the organization can go to hell as far as they are concerned.

As I have often said in the past, 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 also in terms of promoting and enhancing the professionalism of the officer corps.

The Abu Sayyaf problem is a case in point. If you take a close look at the AFP record against this terrorist group in the last 10 years, you will see that each time the AFP launches an offensive against the group, either to rescue a hostage or to punish the terrorists for some atrocity committed, it is the AFP that suffers substantial casualties in proportion to the enemy force they face.

The latest offensive was no exception. We suffered a large number of dead and wounded. And let us not kid ourselves, some hostages were released not because of the pressure exerted by the AFP operations in the area, but because of the ransom paid by the government or by unidentified sources, as well as the assistance of MNLF leader Nur Misuari. Without the monetary payments and the intervention of Misuari, no hostages would have been released in spite of the presence of so many battalions in Basilan and Sulu.

The military continues to deploy even more soldiers to the south, moving troops from the Bicol region to Mindanao. Do  these new arrivals, combat troops, have specialized training for the unfamiliar battlefield conditions they face in Basilan and Sulu? It is not the number of troops involved but the quality of their training, particularly in small unit engagements and the leadership, that would make a difference in the fight against terror.

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In this situation, it is important that we have an AFP chief of staff and key commanders who are focused on the problem and are not distracted by thoughts of their coming retirement. What do you think an officer is most concerned about when facing retirement in a few months? Incidentally, when an AFP chief is named, often his classmates move along with him into various key positions; when he retires, everyone is likely to be facing retirement also, or replacement by the new chief. Since the chief is there for a brief period, there is little possibility of continuity or adherence to established plans and programs or policies.

Now, I am not saying that a fixed term for the AFP chief of staff will solve all our problems. But it certainly would be a step in the right direction. As Representative Pimentel said, “If we are to reinforce the military, as the protector and defender of our national territory, we should give its chief operating officer a stable stint to carry out programs and projects with some degree of constancy.”

We thank Pimentel for the concern he has shown for our AFP. It indicates an understanding of the needs of the organization to enable it to serve the nation with integrity and distinction.

On a personal note, I wish to express my gratitude to Pimentel for mentioning the family in connection with one of the more popular tourist attractions in his province, the renowned “Enchanted River,” an underground river system in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur. This scenic wonder was immortalized in a poem written by my father, titled “Rio Encantada.”

* * *

A week ago, “Francis,” my third kidney, marked his first anniversary in his new settings. As I mentioned in an earlier column, I have dubbed him “Francis” in honor of the Holy Father in Rome who, by his actions and pronouncements, gave new hope and new beginnings for the Church. My new friend “Francis” has also provided me with a new lease on life, as well as hope, for a few more years of quality living.

So far, the partnership has proven worthwhile and fruitful, and once again I thank all those who contributed their expertise and services in making possible a new life. Most of all, we thank the Almighty for his continuing blessings on the family.

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TAGS: Abu Sayyaf, AFP, chief, Johnny Pimentel, opinion
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