Again and again, in the past 12 years when he was still a senator, Rep. Rodolfo Biazon (Muntinlupa) has been filing a bill, seeking to create a fixed term for the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Upon Biazon’s persistence, since the bill was his advocacy, being a former AFP chief himself, the Senate would approve the bill—no sweat.
In the House of Representatives his initiative would always be shot down.
At that time, the position of AFP chief was regarded mainly for its “prestige” status. It was some sort of the cherry on the icing on the military career cake. It was not a position of significant importance in the military hierarchy, unlike those of the field commanders.
The value of the position, at least to the image of the military as an institution, caught public attention only recently. That is in the light of the scandal that came out in the Senate investigation on the “plea bargain” obtained by the former AFP comptroller, Army Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, who walked away—a free man—from charges of “plunder” for allegedly stealing at least P300 million from military funds.
The side issue to that Garcia case was the allegation made by former AFP budget officer Col. George Rabusa, who said certain former AFP chiefs received send-off money (pabaon), by the tens of millions of pesos, upon their retirement, while ordinary soldiers in the field must do without basic supplies.
Now the issue has died down. Media hardly talks about it anymore.
Among think tanks in business, an uneasy feeling remains: Something is dead wrong in the military setup, starting off with the selection process for the AFP chief.
Under the cute administration of Gloriaetta, we had 11 AFP chiefs in all, a number of them serving for less than five months. Media even had a term for it: “revolving door policy.” Wait for your turn. Something like that.
It meant that the main consideration in the cute administration’s appointment of the AFP chief was political patronage. The candidate must have done great in trying to keep Gloriaetta in the Palace.
How do we then make the selection of the AFP chief into a rigid process, with emphasis on qualification and ability, doing away with the politics?
To Biazon, one good initial step is the creation of a three-year term for the AFP chief. He filed—for the nth time—his advocacy bill. The House already approved it.
Another former military man, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, is pushing for the bill in the Senate. From what I heard, Lacson is still trying to rally the military behind the bill, still trying to sense the sentiment of the top brass.
Apparently, there is resistance in the military against the bill. What if the AFP chief turns out be a scoundrel? He would thus have all of those three years to steal from the military funds.
To me, precisely because of the fixed term for the chief, the selection process must become more rigid, with emphasis on qualifications and moral character of the candidates, instead of political connections, particularly those in the Palace. In short, we have to be more thorough and more careful in picking the boss.
That is why the Biazon bill, in effect, seeks to create a semblance of “stability” in the military leadership. The bill says that, even if the current AFP chief reached the “compulsory” retirement age during his term, his retirement would be deferred.
Now, the bill says the President of the Republic can remove the AFP chief anytime, despite the fixed term, merely by citing loss of confidence. In the end, it is still all up to the Palace, right? For what can stop the President from adopting the “revolving door” policy of the cute administration, except perhaps the embarrassment that “loss of confidence” would give to the AFP chief for being unable to finish his fixed term?
Meaning, that the AFP chief would still have to please the Palace. Meaning, further, it is precisely what is wrong in the setup in the first place.
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What is this we hear that the moribund Planters Products Inc., or PPI, is selling its real estate assets at outrageously low prices, despite the “boom” in the real estate sector that is predicted to last for the next several years?
The fertilizer distribution company owns properties all over the country. One of them is a huge property along the shore of Bataan, with a working Panamax pier.
PPI is private enterprise—on paper. Controlling PPI is Planters Foundation Inc. (PFI), which is owned by nearly one million farmers, who supposedly paid for the PPI shares owned by the foundation, when they bought fertilizer from PPI.
Under its charter, therefore, PPI in effect is under the control of the Department of Agriculture, with the agriculture secretary appointing all the members of the PFI board of trustees, which elects the directors of the PPI, and eventually, the PPI top executive.
Thus, while it is a private company, PPI has a lot of answering to do to its ultimate owners—the farmers. I wonder if, the past 40 years of its existence, PPI even bothered to inform the farmers about the performance of “their” company.
The same PPI has been embroiled in controversies ever since its creation through a “letter of instruction” during the Marcos regime. It was said for instance that a “subsidy” to PPI was tacked into its fertilizer prices. Deep in debts, and unable to regularly meet payment, PPI also had to rely on government bailout. A “levy” of P10 per bag, for instance, was imposed on fertilizer, which went to PPI debt payments.
From what I gathered, the fertilizer business of PPI has collapsed. It still has a little business in farm chemicals such as pesticides. And so its main preoccupation, really, is real estate selling. I heard it is disposing off the properties at very good prices—to the buyers of course.
To think, the agriculture department does not even bother to inform the farmers what is going on in their business.