For the Armed Forces, better days ahead

In one of my earlier columns on the subject of the AFP “revolving door” syndrome, I mentioned that in the first 21 years of the 21st Century, the AFP had 28 chiefs of staff, with presidents Gloria Arroyo and Rodrigo Duterte each appointing eleven during their time in office. It was the exact opposite of what took place during the Martial Law years when one AFP chief stayed in the position for nine long years, effectively blocking the ambitions of other aspirants for the four stars of the office.

My frustrations were soon reflected in succeeding write-ups. I suggested that the office of AFP chief of staff be abolished since it did not serve any important and useful purpose other than provide an additional star for someone headed for retirement after just a few months. I also mentioned that it would save us from the humiliation of having to face questions from our allies and foreign friends as to why we change our military leaders so often as to indicate that the position is purely symbolic and without much substance. For a while, I was beginning to believe that the revolving door had slowly become a permanent fixture of the military organization.

But lo and behold, some miracles do happen. I say miracles because who would believe that in the last “two minutes” of an administration that was bowing out of office, a bill earlier passed by Congress is signed into law by the President, correcting so many years, decades of an anomalous situation that contributed to the Philippines having one of the longest insurgencies in the world.

Although the announcement by Malacañang was made only last Wednesday, the new law, Republic Act no. 11709, was signed by the Commander-in-Chief last April 13, or more than a month ago. It prescribes a fixed term of office for the following: AFP Chief of Staff, Vice Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff, Commanding General (CG) Philippine Army, CG Philippine Air Force, Flag Officer-In-Command Philippine Navy, Unified Command Commanders and the Inspector General.

Allow me to focus on the Philippine Military Academy superintendent. What is unusual about the new law is the separate provision for the tour of duty of the PMA superintendent. It singles out the superintendent in recognition of the importance of this post in the education, training and development of our young men and women destined for future leadership in the armed forces.

Section three of RA 11709 specifically provides that “a general/flag officer of proven competence and academic excellence shall be appointed as Superintendent, Philippine Military Academy, and shall be exempt from the maximum tenure and grade under this Act. The PMA Superintendent shall have the rank of Lt. General/Vice-Admiral and be given a tour of duty of four years unless sooner terminated by higher authority. Except for the position of Chief of Staff, the PMA Superintendent shall not be eligible for any other position in the AFP and shall be compulsorily retired after completion of the fixed tour of duty or upon relief from office. No general/flag officer who is more than 58 years of age shall be appointed as PMA Superintendent.”

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The PMA superintendent now has a tenure putting him at par with most presidents of state universities and colleges, who have a term of four years. The University of the Philippines’s president serves for a term of six years.

This favorable development regarding the head of PMA reminds me of what was probably the worst period of the “revolving door” issue at the Academy. In 2012, Lt. General Ireneo Espino relinquished his post as PMA superintendent after serving for only five months. He was replaced by Vice Admiral Edgar Abogado, who served for ten months and retired without even seeing a class graduate during his watch, only to be replaced by another officer with slightly more months of service left. In protest over the frequent changes at the PMA, I mentioned that the Academy is not just any military training facility, but the nation’s primary source of leadership for the armed forces. It costs close to P3 million to put one cadet through four years at Fort Del Pilar. For awhile, it was known as “Asia’s finest,” with neighboring countries like Thailand and Singapore sending their young men to study and train at the Academy. But with the frequent change of leadership at the institution, our regional friends started having second thoughts about continuing the existing program.

With the passage of the new law, we can expect continuity, consistency and greater stability of AFP programs and policies along with a heightened sense of professionalism within the officer corps. Professionalism is the mark of a disciplined, dependable and effective military organization. Let us also bear in mind that much depends on the proper implementation of the various provisions of the law.

We must thank a number of individuals and organizations in bringing about RA 11709. Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon, chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the Senate committee on defense and security; Rep. Raul Tupas, chair, House committee on defense and security; the Advocates for the National Interest (ANI) led by chair Ed Adan and the Association of Generals and Flag Officers (AGFO) headed by Vice-Admiral Elpidio Marayag. Most especially our gratitude to the Commander-in-Chief, President Rodrigo Duterte, who saw the wisdom of providing fixed terms for key AFP officials, thus putting to an end the “revolving door” problem.

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