Arroyo picks Southcom’s Cimatu as next AFP chief
- Marichu A. Villanueva () - May 7, 2002 - 12:00am
He will serve for only four months, and his appointment and two-month extension may trigger unrest in the military.

But Lt. Gen. Roy Cimatu said yesterday it was the quality of his work, not the length of his tenure, that would matter when he takes over the helm of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on May 20, when Gen. Diomedio Villanueva retires as AFP chief of staff.

President Arroyo named Cimatu yesterday as her military chief, saying the Southern Command head "is really chief of staff material."

Although Cimatu is also due to retire in July, the commander-in-chief said she would extend "for now" Cimatu’s tour of duty until Sept. 1, 2002, giving the general some four months as head of one of Asia’s poorest militaries racked by alleged corruption and incompetence.

The President made the announcement during her weekly radio interview yesterday, ending the jockeying among Cimatu’s two closest rivals and three other lieutenant generals.

Cimatu, 55, of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class1970, bested AFP vice chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Camiling (PMA Class 1969) and AFP deputy chief Lt. Gen. Narciso Abaya (West Point, Class of 1969).

The military’s three other lieutenant generals are Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Benjamin Defensor, Army chief Lt. Gen. Dionisio Santiago and Navy chief Vice Admiral Victorino Hingco.

Cimatu, who has spent most of his career in Mindanao, was inspecting an Army Rangers camp in Cabunbata, Basilan when he learned of the President’s announcement.

"I am very happy and very much inspired," he said, thanking the commander-in-chief for her confidence.

"I would like to assure our President and the Filipino people that I will do my very best to lead the AFP," he added.

He said he was not concerned that he would be serving as military chief for only four months because he has learned much in the ongoing joint RP-US "Balikatan 02-1" military exercise and would apply that acquired knowledge during his tour as AFP chief.

"I think it’s not the length of tenure but the quality and output that carries it," Cimatu said.

"I have seen our soldiers perform side by side with US troops. I have seen the difference. Therefore, it is one of my missions to close that gap of difference," he said, referring to the AFP’s relatively poor equipage.

He said the country may not have enough resources for the best weapons in the world but Filipino soldiers are among the bravest in the world.

Cimatu vowed to improve the readiness of Filipino soldiers who, he said, are now more confident even in small unit operations.

"I would like to see more improved soldiers in the future because they are the people who bring success to the AFP," he said.

At the same time, Mrs. Arroyo dismissed the supposed fears of the military’s top brass that Cimatu’s promotion to AFP chief would "jeopardize" their own promotions.

"That’s not true," the President said. "I challenge anybody to name who will be jeopardized by that."

In fact, she said Cimatu was the "most popular choice" as Army chief over two more senior generals.

"For me, it was an injustice not to make him Army chief then. Now, he is the most appropriate choice for chief of staff, even if only for a few months," she said.
A thorn removed
Villanueva expressed relief that the President has finally announced her choice for AFP chief because that would finally end the intrigues and intense jockeying for the post.

"I’m very happy that the President has finally announced my successor because that would end the competition and the rumors," he said.

Abaya, an adopted member of PMA Class of 1971, also welcomed the announcement.

"Let’s buckle down to work," he said, noting that the privilege of naming the AFP chief was not based on seniority alone but, more importantly, on the trust and confidence of the President.

In the Senate, President Pro Tempore Manuel Villar and Sen. Rodolfo Biazon said the entire military should respect Mrs. Arroyo’s choice for AFP chief.

Villar said he was not surprised that the President chose Cimatu, saying this had been widely expected.

"Magaling namang general si General Cimatu (General Cimatu is a good general)," Villar said. "In fact, any of the three in the short list would make a good chief of staff. The AFP would be in good hands no matter who among the three is chosen."

Biazon, himself a former AFP chief and now vice chairman of the Senate committee on national defense, urged other candidates not selected to graciously accept the President’s decision.

"As military professionals, these generals should respect the choice of the commander-in-chief because this prerogative is enshrined in the Constitution," Biazon said.

But he also urged the President to reconsider her decision to extend Cimatu’s service to September because the move might be likened to the practice during the Marcos dictatorship of extending the tours of favored generals to the detriment of the rest of the officer corps.

However, Villar said he sees nothing wrong with extending Cimatu’s tour until September because Cimatu would anyway be denied the privilege of serving as chief of staff for the customary three years.
My heart is still with Ebdane - GMA
During the same radio program, Mrs. Arroyo also dismissed speculations that she is having second thoughts on appointing Philippine National Police (PNP) Deputy Director General Hermogenes Ebdane as the next PNP chief once PNP head Director General Leandro Mendoza retires in September.

Unlike in the AFP, she said there are really police officials whose careers would be affected if she again extends Mendoza’s watch like she did in March.

The President, who had said that Ebdane would eventually be named PNP chief, explained she extended Mendoza’s tour for six months because Ebdane’s promotion to PNP chief would offend more senior police officials.

Mendoza was set to retire March but was extended up to September. Ebdane, however, is not set to retire until December 2004.

She said even Ebdane himself recognized this and even offered to retire as PNP chief after one year to give other police officials a crack at the top police post.

"I’m very appreciative to Jun Ebdane. He himself said he is willing to retire after one year, if need be, so everyone in the line will be given a chance... He is very gracious to give me that option," she said.

As for Mendoza, the President revealed she had offered to appoint Mendoza as Bureau of Customs (BoC) commissioner before its former chief Titus Villanueva retired on Feb. 13.

"But he said he is not a lawyer and the Customs commissioner has many legal work to do," she said.

She also belied reports that she is considering Mendoza as new transportation and communications secretary to replace incumbent Secretary Pantaleon Alvarez who has not been able to have his confirmation confirmed by Congress.

Mendoza is "Cabinet material," she said but reiterated that there is no vacancy in the Cabinet. - With reports from Paolo Romero, Efren Danao, Roel Pareño, John Unson

AFP AIR FORCE CHIEF CIMATU EBDANE GENERAL CIMATU MENDOZA MILITARY MRS. ARROYO PRESIDENT
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