When General Gilbert Gapay assumed his post as Armed Forces Chief of Staff back in August 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte skipped the ceremony – which traditionally is graced by the Commander-in-Chief.
But on Thursday, as Gapay retired from military service and relinquished his post, Duterte was not only there to see him off, but to offer him a new job.
“Sir, after tonight, you might want, you might opt to take the MSW--MWSS vacated by Gen. [Emmanuel] Salamat or you might also choose to be with your home ground, the DND,” Duterte said in his speech. “It's your choice.”
This line appeared off-script, but not out of character. Should Gapay agree to taking any of the offers, he will be the latest in a string of retired generals given top government posts by the Duterte administration.
Duterte did not mention why Emmanuel Salamat vacated the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System's (MWSS) top post, but he, too, was a retired general. The late chairman Danilo Lim of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMD), was also a retired general.
The President has defended the former generals, saying they possess the discipline and honesty he was looking for. Critics have blasted what they call the “militarization” of the civilian national government, adding that many former generals have also figured into corruption cases.
Gapay, for his part, was happy to accept Duterte’s offer.
“I will, of course, I will take on another position. Kung ano 'yung position (as to what position), I’ll think about it,” he said.
The fact that they were generals, trained to follow orders and likewise give orders to subordinates in a culture of obedience, was not a weakness in Gapay’s view.
“We will prove them wrong. As long as you deliver, you work hard, put your heart in it, it doesn’t matter if you’re from the military or other sector,” he said. “As as long as you know your job and do it well for the good of the general public, the good of the country and the people, I think that’s the best gauge.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who was among the guests at the turnover ceremony, advised Gapay to take his time in deciding which government post to take.
“Sleep on it,” he told the former AFP chief, offering a fistbump of encouragement.
Lorenzana said there was no readily available post at the Department of National Defense for Gapay at the moment, except “Basta sinabi ni Presidente, mayroon (For as long as the President says so, there is a vacancy).”
“Maghanap tayo ng lugar doon kung ano ang ibibigay sa kanya (We will look for a place for him there),” added Lorenzana.
Gapay was replaced as AFP Chief of Staff by Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the ninth AFP chief under the Duterte administration. None of the generals appointed by Duterte lasted a year in office, with DILG Secretary Eduardo Año serving the longest at 10 months and 19 days. Retired General Noel Clement served only for 3 months and 12 days.
Sobejana himself is set to reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on July 31 this year, giving him a little over 5 months left.
This revolving door system is seen to adversely affect the continuity of leadership and programs of the Armed Forces, with the organization having to adjust to new leaders all the time. Calls to determine a fixed term for AFP Chief of Staff, however, have remained unaddressed.
Given the timeline, Duterte has the chance to appoint at least one more AFP chief before the end of his term. And with the revolving doors of the military still moving unimpeded, more generals will have the chance to take civilian positions of power.