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Towards a truly modern AFP

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Now it’s clear that the “Rabusa Expose’” and the “Mendoza Report” are not attacks against the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as an institution. Rather they may be regarded as bold, methodical attempts at unmasking the leaders of corruption in the AFP as a necessary step towards ridding – cleansing, if you will – that revered institution of blatantly high-handed corruption.

True, the resultant congressional investigative processes have been very painful and very destructive, particularly for the accused generals and their respective families. Viewed from a higher plane, however, even the tragic suicide of a popular General could be deemed as contributive to the fulfillment of a loftier goal – the systematic, purposeful transformation of the  AFP into a truly modern institution!

Modernity has various aspects and definitions, as different authors and sources would show. But to me, the following definition is the most relevant and appropriate for the main theme and purpose of this write-up: “Modernity denotes the renunciation of the recent past, favoring a new beginning, and a reinterpretation of historical origin.”  (WIKIPEDIA, the free encyclopedia)

1.Renunciation of the recent past.  Lt. Col. Rabusa’s expose’ and Ms. Mendoza’s report cover the period 2000 to 2006. Their testimonies have outlined the mind-boggling magnitude of corruption in the highest offices of the AFP, the details of which now belong to the realm of public knowledge and so need not be recounted here.

However, based on the reported revelation to certain media practitioners of the former Chief of Staff (COS) who took his own life, corruption in the AFP existed earlier than the year 2000 (he was COS from 2000 to 2001). For his quoted statement  starts, thus: “I did not invent corruption in the AFP; I walked into it . . . .”  This statement plus the oft repeated declaration of a popular AFP Spokesman that corruption in the military was already curbed in 2005 would tend to indicate the period to be renounced.

But while the year when it supposedly ended is identifiable, the year when corruption in the AFP started is not. Facing us, therefore, is an infamous event that seems to have a clear ending but an unclear beginning. Apparently this is what made the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee decide “to expand [its] investigation into the reported corruption in the military.”  (Bernadette E. Tamayo and Hector Lawas with Tess Bedico, “No One Will Be Spared,” Journal Online, January 31, 2011)

As the Chairman of that Committee, Sen. Teofisto Guingona II, had declared: “Tatawagan natin lahat ang chief of staff mula kay Pangulong Cory (Aquino) hanggang ngayon.  I-imbitahan natin lahat.”  He further declared: Gusto natin malaman kung {ang corruption sa military ay) kultura o tradisyon nga ito. Kailan ba nag-umpisa ito? Gaano kalalim ito at para makita na institusyon ang ini-imbestigahan natin, hindi personalan.

Ang importante mareporma natin ang institusyon para sa gayon ay mawala na itong tinatawag nilang kultura o tradisyon. Ang implikasyon nito ay, No. 1, talamak ito. No. 2, tradisyon ito. Dapat matignan natin ito.    

And as a Philippine Army (PA) Major who requested anonymity put it: “Nobody should be spared from the investigations . . . [and] punishment should be given to those found guilty . . . it’s high time real reforms [are put] in place in our Armed Forces.” (Michaela P. del Callar with Mario J. Mallari, Angie M. Rosales and Gerry Baldo, “UN, US, Australia: Probe, Proper Accountability of Funds a Must!” Philippine Headline News Online, February 11, 2011)

Nonetheless, it must be emphasized that the AFP has had a glorious past; it used to be looked up to and recognized as among the best armed forces in Asia.  But two (2) recent inglorious events damaged its prestige:  First, when it was used to impose an oppressive Martial Law cum Dictatorship from 1972 to 1986; second, the blatantly high-handed corruption unveiled by the “Rabusa Expose’” and the “Mendoza Report.”

The first has already been effectively renounced; the second is still in the investigation stage of the renunciation process. 2.Favoring a new beginning.  The renunciation of any dark period is inevitably and logically followed by the need for a new beginning.  The effective renunciation of the Martial Law cum Dictatorship was followed by a “never again” attitude among our  people that resulted in the strengthening of freedom and democracy in our land. The enactment of the 1987 Philippine Constitution marked the new beginning for that period, which was characterized by the successful restoration of Philippine democracy.

Today, even if the renunciation process of the AFP’s second dark period has just begun, the new beginning it calls for is already being shaped. The Commander-in-Chief (CINC) himself, President P-Noy, had in fact issued the clarion call as early as July 2, 2010 during the AFP Change of Command ceremonies. First he provided the context, thus: As our country suffered, so have our soldiers, and the situation could only worsen unless priorities are met.  Simple problems and deficiencies have compounded over the years due to corruption, which our administration has vowed to stop.

Then he outlined the goal of the new beginning for the AFP in these words:  “I expect the entire AFP to be the vanguard of  the government’s quest to reform itself, to clean up its own backyard to serve as the model and inspiration for other government agencies.”

And to set things in motion, President P-Noy has directed the new COS, Lt. Gen. Eduardo Oban, Jr., “to work with [DBM Secretary Florencio] Abad and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin in addressing” the following specific objectives:

a.    Strengthening financial controls and accountability structures within and among the General Headquarters and the AFP’s major services to address the issue of “conversion”;

b.    Complying with budgeting, accounting and auditing rules and regulations, as well as spending procedures and allocation, in order to minimize discretion;

c.    Disclosing the military’s roster and in properly determining the actual financial requirements for soldiers’ compensation; and

d.    Funding allocation among military bases, programs and key budgetary units, the competitive procurement of ammunition and other materials, and the adoption of performance baselines for programs. (“PNoy to Oban: Reform AFP’s financial system,” ABS-CBN News)

For his part, Secretary Abad issued the following statements:

This is the first thing I wish to tell Lt. Gen. [Oban] when we meet: let us betray the dark ways of the past and be loyal to the standards of daylight. Transparency, accountability and inclusiveness – against secrecy, connivance and exclusivity – will ensure our success.

We do not wish to tighten financial controls in the military just to make life hard for our soldiers. On the contrary, we do this because we want to energize our men and women in uniform.

Secretary Gazmin’s move on the matter actually predated even the congressional investigations when, upon assumption of office on June 30 last year, “he declared [that his] department is committed to the policies of transparency and accountability of the Aquino administration [and that he] instituted changes to ensure that [such] ideals will be upheld at all times.” (“Towards a modernized armed forces,” The Manila Bulletin Newspaper Online, Copyright 2011)

Himself committed to the same cause, newly installed AFP COS Lt. Gen. Oban has vowed to “eradicate corruption and promote greater transparency . . . [and] sustain the reform initiatives of his predecessors, particularly . . . [Gen.] Ricardo David, Jr.” (David Dizon, “Eliminating corruption tops agenda of new AFP chief abs-cbnNEWS.com, March 7, 2011)

His proposed work plan also includes:  (1) adoption of the recommendations of the 2005 Feliciano Commission that investigated the July 2003 Oakwood Mutiny; (2) strengthening of the AFP’s procurement process by ensuring the accountability of all military resource managers; (3) full computerization of the procurement system and push for amendments in the Government Procurement Reform Act; (4) safeguard funds from all sources “including the Balikatan and the United Nations funds, especially those coming from our taxes, the blood and sweat from our people.”

Also pledging to “hold himself accountable for the proper and effective use of funds,” Gen. Oban said he will “strengthen institutional checks and balances by undertaking more unannounced audits [as well as] enforcement and prosecution of those who are not willing to work [on the] same pledge.”

Finally, he seeks “to remove [the] two basic conditions that breed corruption in the military: opportunity and motivation” as he promotes “a culture [wherein] every soldier will not tolerate corrupt practices.”

All the foregoing -- P-Noy Aquino’s policy pronouncements, Secretary Abad’s declarations, Secretary Gazmin’s instituted changes, and Gen. Oban’s plan of action – favor a new beginning for the AFP.

3.    Reinterpretation of historical origin. This could be approached in various ways, delving into historical records, for instance. My own approach is to revisit the pertinent constitutional principles and highlight the relevant policy pronouncements of certain duly constituted authorities as well as the observations of any responsible stakeholders.

The purpose is to allow a proper and correct “reinterpretation” of the raison d’etre (reason for being) of the AFP, which could have been forgotten or ignored as a resultant influence of the first dark period in our nation’s recent history.

Following are the pertinent constitutional excerpts (Concepcion L Bederio, et al, Philippine Government and Constitution. Meycauayan, Bulacan: Trinitas Publishing, Inc., 2004, p. 54):

The people elect leaders to govern them. On the other hand, the state has also prepared a group of people and has given them guns and firepower with the purpose of defending the people and the government from any internal or external attack. The elected leaders compose the civilian component while the armed group is the military, also called the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Because the military has the capability to seize power from civilian authorities, the Constitution has explicitly endorsed the supremacy of civilian authority [in] Section 3, Article II:

Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.

In times of peace, it is incumbent that the military is always prepared to undertake its responsibility of protecting the national integrity. The military is also mandated to respect the supremacy of civilian authority in order to discourage military adventurism as stated in Section 5, Article II:

The maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty, and property, and the promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy.

Just two (2) days into his term, President P-Noy emphasized the foregoing constitutional provisions in a speech during the AFP Change of Command ceremonies on July 2nd  last year. Looking back, his reminder to the AFP seemed to presage the

shocking aftermath of the “Rabusa Expose’” and the “Mendoza Report.”

For during the Senate investigations on the blatantly high-handed corruption in the  AFP, one former COS (four-star general) after another was summoned to answer questions  from the Senators. Even the then incumbent COS and other active-service  Generals and Colonels had also to be present and ready to answer questions. That spectacle  –  deplorable as it may be to some observers  –  has dramatically proven the supremacy of civilian authority over the military.

Retired Brig. Gen. Edgar Rene Samonte, President of the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association, Inc. (PMAAAI), “expressed disappointment [that in the] Senate investigations into the massive corruption in the military . . . the accuser and the accused . . . belonged to the premier military academy.” (“Corruption probe drives wedge among PMA alumni,” The daily Tribune, February 20, 2011)
More significantly, he opined that “the alumni homecoming should allow PMA graduates to renew the core values . . . they were taught [about] as cadets . . . courage, integrity and loyalty.” This could be a key step in the reinterpretation of the historical origin of the AFP.

Perhaps the most enlightening reinterpretation of the AFP’s role in our society comes from the former COS,  retired Gen. David, Jr. (now Commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration).  Here are the most interesting excerpts from the inaugural  speech he delivered on July 2nd last year: My fellow soldiers, let us be guided by two core principles in the performance of our tasks. First, we are an instrument of national policy [and our focus is] the attainment of national security objectives [as] guided by our non-negotiables: adherence to the rule of law, respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, and observance of the rules of engagement and the use of force.

As for the second principle, we are a part of the Filipino nation . . . an active and relevant institution in the process of nation-building.

We must remain responsive to the needs and expectations of the Filipino people [as we] endeavor to forge partnerships with other government agencies . . . especially in times of disasters and calamities.
In order to fully perform our tasks under these two core principles, it is vital that we continue to transform into an organization characterized by sterling leadership [and dedication] to followership, professionalism and commitment to excellence . . . an organization where discipline and meritocracy [are] exercised . . . where resources are judiciously and prudently used.

Indeed, the congressional investigations on corruption in the highest offices of the AFP have a severely adverse impact on all those who were summoned as resource persons or witnesses, particularly for the accused generals and their respective families. But to paraphrase a line from an old inspirational song, there’s a silver lining back of every dark cloud you see.

Thus, in the end, as AFP Spokesman Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta, Jr., has confidently said, “the Armed Forces will come out as a better institution.” (Alexis Romero and Rainier Allan Ronda, “AFP to help tag cohorts of Garcia,” Philstar.com, January 17, 2011)

Not only will the AFP become better! After it shall have renounced the second dark period in its history, and then implements its already mapped out new beginning as it undertakes a reinterpretation of its historical origin, the AFP will surely be able to transform itself into a truly modern institution!




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