Why Duterte surrounds himself with ex-soldiers

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 21 2019 09:39 AM

Why Duterte surrounds himself with ex-soldiers 1
President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during the Armed Forces of the Philippines Change of Command Ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. Ace Morandante, Malacanang Photo/File

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte got going in the final half of his term, stacking his administration with more ex-military officials in a sign of urgency to get things done, while keeping them close against any possible adventurism, analysts said.

With at least 11 former military and police officials in his immediate circle, the President has worried critics over the steady “militarization” of civilian posts, a concern also raised against administrations in the past.

But “different presidents will have different thoughts about how to run government,” said former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, a former military vice chief of staff.

“All appointments of presidents are appointments of confidence, people that you trust, people that you know can deliver,” he told ABS-CBN News.

It’s the same argument used by Duterte in tapping the likes of Roy Cimatu, a former military chief of staff who now serves as environment secretary.

Ermita recalled how Duterte, during an event with ex-President Fidel Ramos, praised Cimatu for ensuring that the tourist island of Boracay was cleaned up in 6 months.

“Alam mo, sir, kung civilian nilagay ko dyan, baka ang dami pang tanong,” Ermita quoted the president as telling Ramos.

(You know, sir. If I had put a civilian there, that person would have had too many questions.)


Appointing “reliable” allies from the military can also be the President’s way to keep them at arm’s length from political forces that may destabilize his administration, said Ramon Casiple of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.

“Keeping them close para 'di malapitan,” Casiple said.

(Keeping them close so they will be hard to reach.)

Duterte has repeatedly raised the specter of a military coup, often saying he was ready to step down if told to do so.

The military and police have denied any plan to remove the president.


Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself had to rely on her retired generals such as Ermita to thwart at least 3 coup attempts during her 9-year term.

Much of the success, he said, had to do with a template developed when a group of young soldiers stormed the Oakwood apartments in Makati City in 2003.

When disgruntled military officers barricaded themselves at the Marine headquarters in 2006, and another group holed up at the Manila Peninsula hotel the following year, Ermita said Arroyo knew what to do.

“Alam mo na, Ed, Oakwood formula,” he recalled Arroyo once telling him.

The strategy involved blocking entry points to prevent groups from converging to build a critical mass similar to the 1986 Edsa People Power revolt, and eventually force the president to yield.

Ermita manned the crisis management center, supervising the military, during those critical moments.


Political science professor Francisco Magno acknowledged that retired military or police officials were considered a natural fit for certain portfolios within the Cabinet’s security cluster.

“A retired military officer can, without too much adaptation, easily fit into the new role,” he told ABS-CBN News.

“But others may require study because it requires delivering services that may be different from the security service—economic development, poverty reduction.”

Under Duterte, 5 former military chiefs of staff occupy key positions.

Hermogenes Esperon is the national security adviser, while Carlito Galvez is the president’s peace adviser.

Eduardo Año heads the interior department, Roy Cimatu the environment branch, and Rey Leonardo Guerrero the customs bureau.

Duterte’s critics claim there are now too many ex-soldiers in his administration, heavily influencing its policy toward, say, the communist insurgency.

Casiple said the issue required more of a political solution.

Security officials have called for the revival of a 1957 law that criminalized membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines.

They also want to relax restrictions on government in the anti-terrorism law, such as detaining suspects for up to 30 days without a warrant, and conducting wiretapping operations for up to 3 months.