MANILA, Philippines – At the height of this year’s election campaign, retired general Delfin Lorenzana got an unexpected call from then leading presidential contender Rodrigo Duterte with an offer to head the Department of National Defense (DND) in a Duterte administration.
Lorenzana was then in the United States as special presidential representative for veterans affairs at the Philippine embassy in Washington.
He accepted the offer and gave his commitment to serve under Duterte.
But after the election, Lorenzana said the President apparently forgot the offer while announcing the new Cabinet appointees.
Lorenzana came home from the US during the election period for meetings at the home office of Veterans Affairs. It was then that emissaries came looking for him, telling him to go see Duterte in Davao City.
Earlier, Duterte announced he was choosing between two retired generals to be his defense chief.
Lorenzana admitted that he never had an idea that he was one of those being referred to by the President.
“He interviewed me along with my classmates, police Chief Supt. Isidro Lapeña and Chief Supt. Ricardo Quinto,” he said.
During the interview, Lorenzana said the President told him he was needed in the anti-corruption drive to clean up government agencies.
“The President mentioned to me at least six graft-ridden government bureaus where he needed help. He asked us to submit our resumé and trust him to place us where we are needed. I did, and a week later, I went back to Washington,” he said.
Duterte initially said he wanted former defense chief Gilberto Teodoro or former Armed Forces chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. as defense secretary.
Surprisingly though, the President officially announced Lorenzana’s designation as the country’s 36th defense secretary.
Like a good soldier, Lorenzana packed his bags and came home on orders of the President.
“On May 26, I was in Washington, I got a text message to report to Davao where later I and the rest of the incoming secretaries were announced,” Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana and Duterte became friends when he was assigned as commander of the Army’s 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion based in Malagos district in Davao City.
Duterte was mayor of the city at the height of the government’s anti-insurgency campaign in the Davao region in 1987.
Working closely with Duterte, Lorenzana was instrumental in clearing Davao City of insurgents, rebels and criminal groups.
“We became good friends and colleagues in our campaign against the NPA (communist New People’s Army) and other crime groups in Davao. My assignment in Davao lasted for two years and four months, from April 1987 to August 1989,” he said.
He also actively supported the paramilitary group Alsa Masa, laying the groundwork for the creation of the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU).
CAFGU became a major component of the military’s anti-insurgency campaign throughout the country.
His success in the Davao City anti-insurgency campaign has not only resulted in a progressive city but also a close friendship with Duterte, a friendship that continued even after Lorenzana was no longer assigned in Davao.
Duterte, a self-confessed promdi, admitted he only knew a handful of military people outside of Davao.
Born in Midsayap, North Cotabato to parents from Pangasinan who migrated to Mindanao in 1939, Lorenzana grew up in Parang, Maguindanao where he studied and finished secondary education at a Catholic-run Notre Dame school.
He was in 2nd year college at Notre Dame in Cotabato City when he applied and was admitted to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), graduating from the country’s premier military school in 1973.
Lorenzana initially wanted to join the Air Force but an accident during his PMA senior year resulted in vision problems, ending his dreams of flying.
Joining the Army as his branch of service, Lorenzana was deployed to Mindanao, occupying various positions, from platoon, company, battalion and brigade commander, then commander of the Army’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
Under Lorenzana’s leadership, the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade in Cotabato was behind the capture of kidnap for ransom leader Tahir Alonto and rescue of the hostages.
At the height of an all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) from 1998 to 2000, Lorenzana spearheaded the military operations that captured the rebel’s main fortress, Camp Abubakar.
Later serving as commander of the Light Armored Brigade (LRB) and concurrent ground commander of the anti-coup Task Force Libra, Lorenzana, with three battalions under him, prevented a mob from occupying Malacañang in their quest to unseat then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in April 2001.
Adding to Lorenzana’s qualification to head the defense department, he lobbied for the passage of the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation by the US government, benefiting Filipino soldiers who served under the Americans during World War II.
Lorenzana earned his Master of Business Administration degree, major in Operations Research, from Ateneo Graduate School of Business. He also took a number of courses and training both in the Philippines and abroad, to include strategic studies at Australia University in Canberra, Senior International Leaders seminar at Harvard University and crisis management course at the US State Department.
As defense and Armed Forces attaché from 2002 to 2004, Lorenzana oversaw and monitored military bilateral relations between the Philippines and the US on the Visiting Forces Agreement, military exercises, aid, training and foreign military sales.
In 2002, Lorenzana also helped develop the Terms of Reference for the success of the Balikatan exercises between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US Pacific Command in Basilan.
Former defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin has only good words for the new defense chief.
“The DND and the AFP are in goods hands under General Lorenzana,” Gazmin said.
Lorenzana is married to Editha with whom he has five children – Cecille, Edelle, Erik, Del and Camille.