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Hot Seat: Rear Admiral Guillermo Wong

By NEWSBREAK

‘It’s an old boys’ club…we cover up for each other’

 

After only three months on the job, Rear Admiral Guillermo Wong, Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) of the Philippine Navy, bows out this week—not by choice but forced out by noisy Marine officers unhappy with his style of leadership. The embattled Navy chief was taken by surprise when Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Angelo Reyes met with him last week and offered him a new assignment, to head the Northern Command based in Tarlac, a clear demotion. He got the message and offered to retire early. Admiral Wong spoke with Newsbreak’s Marites Daguilan Vitug the day after he got axed.

 

 

What really happened?
In my talks with the Marines, I found a strong resistance to the new procurement procedures that I was trying to establish, [stressing] transparency, honesty. I cited to them several anomalous activities. Apparently, they resented this, saying that I told them off in front of their men. According to the chief of staff, there is a conflict in leadership styles. My leadership style is: I am open to my men. In the Marines, apparently, that’s not the case: selective information for the officers, others for the men. The officer corps, they said, lost credibility with their men. For me, credibility to your men is being truthful to them. Can we let the Marines pipe down and tell them to keep quiet? Apparently not. So I have to go.

Some in the Marines participated in past coups…
They’re still there, the same guys. They’re the ones complaining. They’re into that behavior.

Weren’t they sanctioned?
They were but then they were given amnesty.

It shows a faulty system in the military.
We’re Filipinos, very forgiving. You know, soldiers fight side by side. One way or another, you owe your life to the other guy.

Did those who complain break the chain of command?
Definitely, there is a breakdown in discipline. People jump into tantrums when they don’t get what they want. That is sad.

What’s the cause of breakdown in discipline?
There was Edsa 1, for one. We can oust leaders.

Are there complaints filed against specific officers?
Yes, there are. They’re being investigated. [Officers with] two stars and below, we investigate. The evaluation began before my term. That’s how long the process is.

How can the Marines be a war-fighting machine when there’s a breakdown in discipline?
There needs to be a reorientation of values. You have to be a marine to understand…

Why? What is a Marine?
It’s like a fraternity.

You said the Navy is mature. But doesn’t this speak of immaturity?
Yes, that’s because we have the Marines with the Navy.

Were you taken by surprise?
Yes. I thought the chief of staff would back me up. We were together in Edsa [2].

Do you feel you’re  the odd man out?
I’ve always been. In PMA, there is an honor system but it seems to apply only to official acts. In everyday life, it doesn’t seem to work. I won’t say something just to conform. I was labeled as walang pakisama. Individualist. I’m very clear about being truthful. I don’t fit. I’m just too happy to leave. I’ve exerted all my efforts…I pay for my food in the mess hall. I eat what the apprentice seaman eats. I show them that I’m no different from them. It’s just that I have stars. Regardless of rank, we have the same rules and regulations.

What signal does this send to the military?
Everyone here knows I did the right thing. Now, I’m being ousted. In trying to initiate reforms, out I go. That’s the signal. Noli Me Tangere [Title of a novel by Philippine national hero Dr Jose Rizal which helped spark the country's revolution against Spain-INQ7.net ed]. Touch me not. Don’t touch the system.

Did you ever find yourself in a similar situation before?
Oh yes. I’ve been kicked around. This is the story of my life. I was head of Ready Force command, a small unit. My attention was called because I did not use up the budget for the quarter. But I performed my mission for six months. The implication was: use up the budget even for personal stuff. Some of my men petitioned for my ouster in 1998 and this was endorsed by the Inspector General. They said I wasn’t giving them allowances, that I didn’t give them sea duty pay. Of course, because they were assigned ashore. But the FOIC [at the time] said I was following the rules. So the petition was dismissed.

How much are the amounts involved in corruption?
P3.8 million in one case involving helmets; 500 were ordered but only 299 were delivered and these were substandard. It’s an old boys club. That’s the training in the Academy, when we try to say the same thing the other guy is saying even if it is not true…We cover up for each other.

— This article appeared in vol.1, no.6 issue of Newsbreak (dated February 28-March 6, 2001).

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