MANILA— Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. on Friday said "rumblings" within the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are just feelings of “tampo” and anxiety from troops over a law which sets a fixed three-year term for key officials.
“We are listening to the concerns of our men and women in the AFP, who are understandably anxious over the perceived uncertainty in their careers under the new law,” the Department of National Defense said, quoting Galvez.
Galvez admitted in a Senate hearing Tuesday that there are “rumblings” within the AFP due to the “unintended consequences” of Republic Act No. 11709, which took effect in July last year.
Former President Rodrigo Duterte signed the law in a bid to do away with the “revolving door policy” and allow military leaders to implement reforms.
“Though we acknowledge the beauty of RA 11709, the intention of preventing the revolving door policy, but the intended consequences of prohibiting the junior classes to compete equally, medyo ‘yun po ang nagiging epekto,” Galvez said during the hearing.
The defense secretary said military officials belonging to classes ’90 to ’94 are the ones “gravely affected” by the new law.
“Talagang it gravely affected the morale kasi nakita nila na mayroong—makikita po natin ang affected ay ang 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994. Hindi sila makaangat," he had said.
"Nagkaka-edad na sila. In our case, brigade commander ako 49; sila 51, 52 na, hindi pa sila nagbi-brigade. So apektado po ang kanilang career,” he said.
AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Tanglaw-Diwa Class of 1992, said some officers might be worried that even if they believe they are very much qualified to be promoted, they will be deprived of a higher rank and become retired due to their age.
“I think what is the apprehension of some is that they won’t get the rank they deserve to have because they’ve been serving the Armed Forces for many years and doing that faithfully and with full commitment just to be retired to a rank below what they think they deserve is some kind of injustice to them,” Aguilar told ABS-CBN News on Thursday.
But he also noted the need to look at and understand the organizational structure of the AFP.
“It is hierarchical. You cannot expect everyone to go up the ladder and be appointed to key positions and be promoted to star ranks,” he said.
“The organization is a prism, it’s triangular, so that there will only be one 4-star, few numbers that will get 3 stars, probably a bigger number of 2 stars and one star," noted the AFP spokesperson.
"So, in my opinion, I think it’s just but natural that some will not get promoted. If I fall to that group who will not be promoted, maybe I’ll say I’m not the best to be promoted because there are other people better than me. I think that’s how we should look at it,” he added.
LAW SHOULD BE AMENDED
Galvez suggested that instead of a fixed term, the law should be amended to allow a “maximum term” for AFP officials.
Under the DND and AFP’s proposed amendments, only the chief of staff will have a maximum tour of duty of three years.
The commanding general of the Philippine Army and Philippine Air Force, as well as the flag officer in command of the Philippine Navy, can stay for up to two years, while the superintendent of the PMA will have a tenure of up to four years.
Other key positions, such as the vice chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, unified command commanders and inspector general will be excluded from the fixed three-year term.
They can also be appointed to a higher post if they still have one year in service.
Security analyst Dr. Chester Cabalza agreed that there is a need to modify the law and iron out its implementing rules and regulations, citing the case of former AFP chief Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro and reappointed chief of staff Gen. Andres Centino.
"Because of the recent fiasco that happened in the defense and security sector. This is to correct what is the real intention of the new law. Even during the time of Gen. Bacarro, he was waiting for the final version of the IRR of the new law, which was not properly implemented and, actually, he became a victim of that new law,” Cabalza told ABS-CBN News on Friday.
He then continued, “It is indeed needed that we have to amend it, at the same time implement the IRR para makapagstart na."
"The real chilling effect of the new law will be experienced by Gen. Centino because he will be retiring by next month. Makikita natin if the AFP, in general, will hasten the full implementation of the IRR and later on, we will see such changes in the amendments.”
Cabalza explained that aside from stalled promotions, another concern brought about by the fixed terms will be the attrition in the number of qualified officers and enlisted personnel.
“I think it boils down to the retirement because generally, AFP officials are expected to retire at 56. It’s mandatory based on the old law. This time around, they will be extended based on their qualifications to 3 years," he said.
"With that, technically, we will see a lot of disruption in the ecology of the promotion, attrition and extension of AFP officials. Ang mangyayari dito, it will affect the retirement law of the AFP, which will have an impact. Generally, not all of them will be promoted because you only have the select few and most qualified to run the organization of the Armed Forces."
Because of that, the analyst said the level of full colonels and 1-star generals will be "bloated." This could prevent officials from being promoted.
"Kung hindi ito mababalanse nang mabuti, it would cause a lot of troubles, especially if the organization is not fully professionalized because we will see a lot of jealousy from different batches in the PMA and some escalation of conflict of interest if it will not be properly implemented," he said.
The expert also hopes to see an “improved culture of meritocracy” in the selection of key AFP officials.
“Sana rin mawala dito ang mistah culture. We hope to see a culture of meritocracy in the selection of AFP officials because they will be extended,” Cabalza said. “Healthy competition is good as long as it is based on meritocracy.”
Galvez targets to resolve the situation within the first quarter of 2023.
“Despite concerns over RA 11709, the AFP remains faithful to our Constitution, people and the flag, and our officers and men are continuing to fulfill their mandate of protecting our nation,” said Galvez.