And just like that, President Arroyo has found religion in the gospel of the fixed term. Not hers, of course, but that of the Armed Forces chief of staff.
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said at a news briefing [on Monday] that the President supported proposals to give the Armed Forces chief of staff and the Philippine National Police chief fixed terms.
“We believe that a fixed term will serve the best interest of the organization and its mission,” said Bunye. “The overall objective of this is to have professionalism and redirect these two important agencies away from politics. It will not be beneficial if we have a new AFP chief of staff or PNP chief every so often.”
After appointing eight AFP chiefs in five years (and four Philippine National Police chiefs in the same time), the President seems to have no more use for the revolving door (which had caused many a political analyst or editorial writer to fulminate against the transparent politicization of the armed services, and forced the Senate, even while still under an administration-friendly Senate president, to pass a term-fixing bill over a year ago).
What could explain the President’s conversion? One guess: Hermogenes Esperon. The Army’s commanding general is often described these days as chief-of-staff-in-waiting. He may not have to wait long (I say "may," because it is still possible that the soon-to-retire Gen. Generoso Senga may find his term extended); but it seems to me more and more likely that a pliant House and an unwitting Senate may yet make the President’s favorite general and strongest military supporter the first beneficiary of a fixed-term law. Outgunned, and now outgamed!
PS. Another item in the Survivor’s manual. Defense Sec. Avelino Cruz is intent on reforming the military bureaucracy. I was one of the many who greeted his appointment to the Department of National Defense as a grievous mistake; but it does seem that the consummate lawyer has done his homework, and is in fact aggressively pushing both much-needed modernization and bureaucratic reform. His stock is certainly high with American generals, judging from a revealing lunch I attended in Pearl Harbor sometime last year. Now he wants to junk the seniority system, sort of. But he also wants to extend the terms of all generals. The price of reform? You tell me.