FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN Former Defense secretary Norberto Gonzales (center) talks to Manila Times Chairman and CEO Dante ‘Klink’ Ang 2nd (right) and columnist and former senator Francisco ‘Kit’ Tatad (left) on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, on the recent controversial appointments by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., especially in the return of Gen. Andres Centino as Armed Forces chief, and its possible impact on the establishment and the government. In the foreground are reporters Kristina Maralit and Franco Barona. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA
THE naming of a new Defense chief and National Security Adviser (NSA) by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. may have quelled the growing unrest within the military “for now,” but other crucial matters require further attention, a former defense official said.
Norberto Gonzales, who headed the Department of National Defense (DND) and later the NSA during the Arroyo administration, said the appointment of Carlito Galvez Jr. as DND secretary and Eduardo Año as NSA, may have silenced the grumbling in the military establishment, but Marcos must look beyond issues of leadership to stabilize the situation.
One of the major tasks of the DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is to see to it that “even if there is some type of grumbling, their prevailing attitude is to normalize things as soon as possible,” Gonzales said in a roundtable interview organized by The Manila Times on Monday.
He said the President’s decision to appoint Galvez and Año averted a possible security crisis.
A growing restlessness has spread particularly among former high-ranking military officials because members of some Philippine Military Academy (PMA) batches have been overlooked for promotion, Gonzales said.
“These are former officers of the armed forces who normally would not raise a voice of anything, but suddenly there is a concern [among them]. They said ‘this is already our institution.’ Of course, I can’t help it. I have to react,” he said.
The issues concerning national security involve more than just the military, Gonzales said. “When you look at the overall security cluster of the President, that would involve the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Justice, the DILG (Interior and Local Government), Defense.”
It is for this reason that Gonzales suggested that the President review the efforts of past administrations to preserve the traditions, integrity, and professionalism of the military.
Another roundtable participant, former senator Francisco “Kit” Tatad, expressed hope that Marcos would reach out to former Cabinet officials and other key government agencies to gain a different perspective on how to address the country’s most pressing problems such as the high inflation rate and the food crisis.
“We’re just a phone call away,” Tatad, who was press secretary for the President’s Marcos late father, Ferdinand Sr., said.
Gonzales said another concern that requires in-depth analysis is the decades-long insurgency.
The recent death of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison may have created a vacuum in the local communist leadership and given the government “some breathing space,” but the Marcos administration must not be too complacent since “small communist groups in the region are being revived,” he said.
Threats outside the country’s borders, particularly those posed by Islamic State-influenced terrorist organizations, still remain, Gonzales said.
“There are certain developments not only in the Philippines but also in the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region. There seems to be a revival of communist movements in countries in the region. Most of them were almost dead but now being revived. What’s most disturbing is, we have noticed, these small political parties have traces not just of communists but also of Muslim radicals,” he said.
The intelligence community must widen its focus to include regional developments, Gonzales said.
Speaking to reporters accompanying him to Switzerland, President Marcos Jr. vouched for Galvez, Año and the new Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Andres Centino.
Centino replaced Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro, who was AFP chief for only about five months.
It was the return of Centino as Armed Forces head that sparked rumors of unrest in the military.
Defending his decision, the President noted that Centino is more senior than Bacarro.
He said he needed to correct the issue of seniority precisely to quell the grumbling in the lower ranks.
“There were some comments that were made: ‘Paano ‘yan ‘pag nag-extend-extend kami naman dito sa lower ranks, wala na kaming pag-asa (What if they extend again and again, we, in the lower ranks, might lose a chance to be promoted)?'” he said.
“Hindi naman tama ‘yun. So malo-low morale sila. So tiningnan namin (That’s not right. So, they’ll be in low morale. So, we looked at it), ‘What do you want us to do?’ Nagtanong kami sa military and I said ayusin namin ‘yung seniority (We asked our military, and I said let’s fix the ranks by seniority) and that’s what we’ve done,” the President said.
He described Galvez as “very, very experienced.”
“And, in fact, as soon as he took his oath, he knew already what to do. Nag-command conference na siya (He already presided over a command conference). So I think he’ll slide into that position really easily. Yeah, no problem,” Marcos said.
Galvez replaced DND Officer in Charge Jose Faustino Jr., who said that he quit after learning “only from news and social media” that a new military chief had taken oath in Malacañang.
The President cited Año’s “long, long, long experience in intelligence.”
“Before he became chief of staff, before he became group commander. He was ISAFP (Intelligence Service of Armed Forces of the Philippines), so sanay na sanay ‘yun (so he’s used to that kind of work). And he’s well-known, and he knows all of the operatives in the intelligence community,” he said.
Año replaced Professor Clarita Carlos, who stepped down as security adviser to join the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD) of the House of Representatives.
“Secretary Carlos, I think she found that position to be a little bit political. Kasi hindi talaga siya sanay sa ganon at (Because she’s not used to it and) she is an academic, a retired academic,” Marcos said.
On Monday, Interior Secretary Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. said Año can count on the support of the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Abalos said he is confident Año will fit nicely into his new role, citing Año’s extensive experience in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the DND and the DILG.
Abalos said Año’s five-year term as DILG chief has improved the state of local governments, especially in terms of general security, peace and development.
In a related development, Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go expressed support to the President’s directive to the military to pursue the peace process to end the decades-long communist insurgency.
The senator in a statement on Monday said peace is important to him, especially in Mindanao.
“There should be no more killing. Who wants bloodshed anyway?” he said in Filipino.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE, CHRISTIAN CROW MAGHANOY AND BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO
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