Stop revolving door, PNoy
Dear Mr. President,
If our sources are to be believed, you are inclined to name yet another retiring general as the new chief of staff of the troubled military.
The outgoing military boss, Gen. Ricardo David, is retiring on March 8.
You’re caught in this decision point because you chose the easy way last year when you picked David, whom you know personally but who only had a few months remaining in his term.
At the time, many were already expecting you to put an end to the “revolving door” policy of Mrs. Arroyo.
Had you appointed the other contender then, Westmincom commander Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, you would not be in this situation of having to shake an organization that’s been shaken enough in the last couple of months. (Ferrer, after all, is retiring in January 2012 yet.)
Still, we can consider this as a fortuitous occasion for you to take another look at the military.
Your predecessor trifled with this organization for far too long.
She parceled out promotions like dog food to the most loyal. She had a chief of staff for 69 days whose only legacy is that blue canopy at the Camp Aguinaldo grounds. She had a chief of staff for about 4 months who is best remembered for the massive gymnasium he built in Fort Bonifacio.
Let’s peek into your list.
The Army chief, the be-medalled, non-controversial Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz, is a logical choice. But he retires in November. We are told he begged off when you offered the CS position to him.
AFP deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. Eduardo Oban is said to be the choice of David as his successor. An Air Force general, Oban is respected by peers but at some point was closely associated with presidential bet Gilbert Teodoro. You reportedly favor him as well.
But Oban retires in eight months. What can one do in such a short time except to merely avoid blunders, play safe, and tour the countryside before retirement?
Four other senior generals on your long list all belong to that class, the PMA Class of 1978, which lorded it over under Mrs. Arroyo. They’re AFP vice chief of staff Lt. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Oscar Rabena, Southern Luzon commander Lt. Gen. Roland Detabali, and Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, chief of the AFP Western Command.
All of them are quite able officers. Mapagu is a known professional. Sabban has an edge over the rest because he is retiring in 2013 yet.
But we grant you that: no to the “mistahs” of your discredited predecessor.
We’re told you interviewed another batch of nominees, and this time it included Ferrer and two officers seemingly plucked from nowhere: Brig. Gen. Jessie Dellosa (Class 1979), commander of the Army’s 2nd infantry division in Tanay, Rizal, and Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista (Class 1981), the AFP deputy chief of staff for operations (J3).
The problem with appointing Dellosa is you will be seen again as resorting to your comfort zone. You know him personally; he served as one of the presidential guards of your mother, former President Aquino. He is also said to be one of your shooting buddies. The plus for him, of course, is that he is retiring in January 2013 yet.
What to do?
The military needs new energy and new thinking. Someone who will stay for the long haul and see crucial reforms through.
There is logic behind an existing AFP policy that bans officers with less than a year remaining in their term from being named commander of a major service command (Army, Navy, Air Force). If the attrition rule can’t entrust a command to an officer with less than a year in service, how can it entrust the entire institution to the same?
Your mother at one point did a deep selection and named then Army chief Lisandro Abadia (Class 1962) as her chief of staff, jumping over the many aspiring heads of Class 1961. The deep selection of Abadia started when Mrs. Aquino promoted him from J3 to command the Army—bypassing several senior officers.
Of course, Abadia was later subjected to a corruption probe for his stint at the RSBS, but that’s another story. Mrs. Aquino and then defense chief Fidel Ramos felt a “junior” Abadia was needed for a crucial transition; he was young enough to stay long after the 1992 presidential race that catapulted Ramos to the presidency.
As president, Ramos appointed only 3 chiefs of staff: (the late) Arturo Enrile, Arnulfo Acedera Jr., and Clemente Mariano.
You have the choice to cast a wider net to include other “junior” officers aside from Bautista and Dellosa.
You have to already exclude those with barely a year or slightly more than a year remaining in their terms—if you really want to nurse a battered organization back to life.
Decisions like this come with risks. You need to know, however, Mr. President, that you can afford such risks given your popularity within and outside the military.
To appoint the likes of Bautista, for example, is risky. While he has outranked some of his seniors, he might not be ripe for the position, as conventional wisdom goes. He would be bypassing 3 upper classes. He has yet to earn his crisis stripes, so to speak. And I can imagine your detractors’ reaction: What? Another amateur member of the Aquino student council?
Stop the bleeding
If you’re not too sold on him, then choose from other commanders more experienced but with still 3 or even 4 years to go.
Ask any field officer worth his salt, and you’ll get a simple answer: the leadership hemorrhage must stop. The frequent lobbying and jockeying for the top post must end. There have been too many costly trysts with chiefs in the face of mind-boggling problems.
Do not believe advisers who tell you that seniority is sacred in the Armed Forces. It is sacred only if it is for the greater good.
Think—even for a minute—of what you and a young chief of staff can do together for an institution that needs to modernize, to clean up, to think ahead, and to remove excess fat.
If the AFP could survive a Reyes, a Garcia, a Ligot, and a Rabusa, surely it could live with—and probably even thrive in—deep selection?
Mr. President, the most significant decisions are shaped by context. Certainly, you have every right—and reason—to appoint an experienced but short-lived chief of staff like Oban or Ferrer, to give more time for the young ones to earn their seniority and command. But by that time, the context would have changed.
The recent scandal involving the organization gives you a perfect window. Rock the boat now and hope for the best. (Newsbreak)
Erratum: An earlier version of this blog stated that Sabban is Marine Commandant. He is now commander of the AFP Western Command. We apologize for the error.