Before he became Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Dec. 2016, nothing much was known about Eduardo Año. He basically kept a low profile during most of his military service and with good reason. Año made his name not so much as a commander in the fields of battle, but in the shadowy circles of military intelligence.
To play the game of cloak and dagger with enemies of the state takes a keen mind, something that Año displayed early in his life. He graduated elementary at the top of his class. He joined the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1983 and graduated cum laude. In 1993, Año finished at the top of his class in the international officer intelligence course in the U.S.
In the AFP, Año rose through the ranks within the military intelligence community. He rose to become commander of the Intelligence and Security Group of the Philippine Army. And it was during these years that Año started earning a fearsome reputation with the capture of ranking leaders of the communist movement. In March 2014, Año collared the elusive Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) chair Benito Tiamzon. In 2015, Año neutralized New People’s Army (NPA) commander Leonardo Pitao alias Kumander Parago who died after a firefight. Pitao led the NPA in Davao and was reportedly a friend of President Duterte.
Another target: Jonas Burgos, son of the late veteran journalist and freedom fighter Jose Burgos Jr. Burgos was abducted in a Quezon City mall in 2007 by military agents. He has not been seen since then. Since his disappearance, Burgos’ mother Edita has been asking for accountability and has shone an unflattering light on the inner workings of military intelligence.
Despite the Burgos case, Año still continued rising through the ranks. He later became chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP). Año then became commanding general of the Philippine Army, and then rose to the top of the military hierarchy as AFP Chief of Staff in 2016.
It was under Año's watch as AFP chief when elements of the ISIS-inspired Maute group laid siege to Marawi City in May 2017. The military said the siege started as a military raid meant to corner Maute militants until it escalated to a scorching campaign that left the once proud and beautiful city in tatters.
Was the siege the result of a failure of military intelligence? Initially, in June 2017, President Duterte himself said the Marawi crisis was not a result of a failure of intelligence but a connivance between local warlords and terrorists who stockpiled arms in the city. But after his second State of the Nation Address the next month, the President admitted there was a failure of intelligence. Specifically, “a mistake in the evaluation or assessment” of the intel. No one was made to pay for the costly failure of intelligence in the Marawi siege. Not the supposed local warlords who helped the Maute and certainly no one in the military leadership.
In any case, Año led the military through the end of the Marawi siege. And now as Interior and Local Government Secretary, Año is supervising the rehabilitation of the city. He was also designated martial law administrator in Mindanao, which was extended by Congress after much criticism.
As Secretary of DILG, the department under which the PNP belongs, Año has said the agency supports the president's war on drugs, which has claimed at least 4000 lives.
He launched an audit of local officials for underperforming in the government’s drive against illegal drugs and anti-criminality. But the results of the audit have yet to be revealed.
Of late, Año is pushing for a P20 billion deal with Chinese firm China International Telecommunications and Construction Corp. to install 12,000 CCTV cameras around Metro Manila and Davao City. The deal is certainly raising a lot of eyebrows over security and data privacy concerns. Año sought to allay these fears but the Senate is set to look into the deal anyway. Incidentally, there are reports the Chinese firm was blacklisted by other countries because of, what else, security and corporate violations.
Año is also at the forefront of another battle, this time to sell to the public the proposed shift to a federal form of government in the country. And from the looks of it, it’s going to be a tough sell. A draft of a federal charter passed in the Lower House. But critics are pointing out the lack of a ban on political dynasties and provisions for term limits.
If his military career is any indication, Año always gets the job done. He always gets his man no matter the odds. He is sure to push the current programs of his very important and very powerful office. But at what cost?