The Armed Forces of the Philippines has a new Chief of Staff. No other Chief of Staff of the country’s military establishment is ever remembered to have stuck his foot in his mouth on his first day of office!
Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay took his oath of office last Monday August 3, 2020. He is the 54th Chief of Staff, the 8th such appointee under the more than four-year-old presidency of Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Consistent with a long standing, stupid and unchanging government policy and practice, General Gapay is retiring in six months!
Gapay graduated valedictorian of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1986, taking with him a record of 13 awards. Reputedly gifted with a high IQ (intelligence quotient) and EQ (emotional quotient) as well, the General is evidently smart and forward looking. Not even having warmed the seat of his new command, it appears that he was already priming himself for a post-retirement government job, intent on joining the unprecedented number of fellow retired generals, PMA graduates, already in the ‘Dutertismo’ payroll. Duterte is known for his penchant for the military, with retired generals often appointed to lead various government offices. Of current note, we have the government’s Covid-19 Inter-Agency Task Force, faced with accusations of incompetence; and the now infamous PhilHealth (the country’s national health insurance corporation) deeply mired in a 15-billion-peso scandal!
Now for Gapay’s symptomatic foot-in mouth disease. His first official statement was easily interpreted as pandering for the Presidential ear and attention. It is commonly known that President Duterte’s most recent pet legislation, a very controversial one, is the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (Republic Act 11479). It is derisively nicknamed the Duterte Terror Law. Well, the new AFP Chief of Staff was vocally and visibly all out in support of the Duterte Terror Law controversy. No law has ever been challenged before the Supreme Court with as many law suits, 25 with the latest filing.
Nonetheless, for the platform of his new office, Gapay declared his wish to regulate the use of social media under the Anti-Terrorism Act in monitoring alleged terrorist activities. In other words, he was espousing stifling freedom of speech under the guise of fighting terrorism as an act of governance. How fascist can that ever be? But calculatedly, it was music for Duterte’s ears. For Duterte, it was validation, as it were, from the very top soldier he has just appointed to head the nation’s Armed Forces.
Gapay could not have been out at sea when the terror legislation was hanging fire! There was an overwhelming objection from the broadest cross section of Philippine society -- the academe and the schools and studentry, businesses and its institutions and chambers, the professions, the churches and its prelates, civil society and concerned individuals. But Duterte could not be deterred. He signed the bill into law anyway and in the midst of a raging pandemic, too!
And so it was a monumental controversy writ large that the newly sworn-in Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, willy-nilly, plunged into! And immediately, Gapay’s gaffey brainstorm was accosted with a tsunami of grievance, criticism and even jeering from netizens. Bootlicking was a common thread! There was Senator Frank Drilon, minority leader, who set off constitutional alarm. The Commission on Human Rights was of course front and center. And in defensive reaction, even Malacanang distanced itself from Gapay, stating that social media is beyond Duterte Terror Law’s intended reach.
Whatever happened to military decorum and discipline as handed down by the PMA tutors and taskmasters? Aren’t there supposed to be Good Manners and Right Conduct (GMRC), especially so for the uniformed military? Propriety, prudence and circumspection demand that the uniformed services do not express, nor participate, in any opinion on political matters publicly, least of all politically sensitive and controversial subjects. Professional military in democratic regimes observe the protocol of non-involvement in such public discourse. Yet, General Gapay’s foot-in-mouth oath-taking day utterance stepped into a landmine of adverse public opinion.
The general will be retired from active military service and will descend from his perch as AFP Chief of Staff in six months! Fat chance for any substantial accomplishment! This retirement routine simply follows what has come to be blindly accepted and known as our Armed Forces’ “revolving door” practice and policy of appointing Chiefs of Staff. It is factual stupidity!
Imagine, we have had more than two dozen AFP Chiefs during the last twenty years! An average tenure for each, not a one completing a year of service and performance. Obviously, sound management and common sense beggar efficacy and utility. No other military organization on planet earth does what we do!
A salient commentary coming from one of the many illustrious graduates of PMA exposes the rot. Ramon J. Farolan, Jr . (former Philippine Air Force Chief and presently an Inquirer columnist) said of the practice: It ‘does not serve any important purpose except to give someone four stars for just a few months’ work.” As a consequence, “support of so many high-ranking generals” is “pressure on the pension system.” Farolan believes that the position of Chief of Staff has become “purely symbolic and without substance.” In fact, he recommends abolishing the office!
The cause for this incredulous “revolving door” has been known and identified for decades. The Office of the President knows it. Congress does. Every time a new Chief of Staff is installed, repetitively the same commentary follows. A variety of sanely beneficial solutions have likewise been pronounced and proffered. Yet, pussyfooting rules!
Ah, pussyfooting! There’s a weekend word for you! Vacillation. Evasion. Avoiding to make a decision, because of being frightened at doing so!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.
In 1986, then-Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.
During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.
After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.
He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.