A CIVILIAN DEFENSE CHIEF APPOINTED NEXT WEEK; GMA OFF TO MINDANAO

[PHOTO: NO COUP: President Arroyo greets one of about 100 retired generals who called on her at Malacañang yesterday to assure her they are not plotting against her administration. - Revoli Cortez ]

MANILA, September 19, 2003 (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva  - A civilian will be appointed as defense secretary next week when President Arroyo relinquishes her concurrent post before leaving for official trips abroad.

Mrs. Arroyo had planned to act as concurrent secretary of the Department of National Defense (DND) for at least six weeks after taking over from Angelo Reyes who resigned last Aug. 29.

Yesterday, however, the President revealed that she had decided to cut short her stint at the DND and had already selected the next defense chief.

"He is a civilian," the President said without elaborating.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo dismissed yesterday persistent speculation of military restiveness, saying plots against her administration were mere rumors.

Speaking before about 100 retired generals who had gathered at Malacañang to show their support for her, Mrs. Arroyo asked their help in "addressing" the concerns of soldiers.

"The Armed Forces must learn to live in the longevity of ideals, not quick fix solutions founded on fleeting adventurism," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo has, however, confirmed that presidential adviser on the peace process and chief government negotiator Eduardo Ermita is among those on the "short list" of nominees to the defense post. "Ed has long been a civilian," she said.

Ermita was earlier made "acting" DND secretary by Mrs. Arroyo after former senator Orlando Mercado, a holdover from the Cabinet of deposed President Joseph Estrada in January 2001, resigned.

Ermita was acting defense secretary for several weeks until Reyes was appointed to the post just two days after his mandatory retirement as Armed Forces chief in March 2001.

For his part, Ermita said he had no idea yet if he would be appointed to the post. "The President told me last week that I am on the ‘short list.’ But that’s all," he said.

Mrs. Arroyo fondly talked about Ermita with Palace reporters after she convened her latest meeting with the DND-Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) officials at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

She recalled when Ermita retired from the military service right after the EDSA "people power" revolution in 1986, then President Corazon Aquino appointed the retired military general in his "first" civilian posting as chief of the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

"And then he ran for Congress and won (as Batangas congressman)," Mrs. Arroyo said.

Ermita served for three consecutive terms before being appointed back to the executive branch as her peace adviser.

Mrs. Arroyo said she would turn over the post to the incoming defense secretary who will be assisted "for the first time" by a woman deputy, Undersecretary Constancia de Guzman.

De Guzman, the President’s former appointments undersecretary, was appointed by Mrs. Arroyo to the post as head of the special presidential task force to reform the AFP procurement process.

De Guzman has submitted a report informing the President that starting today (Friday), she will "jumpstart reforms and devise further measures" to streamline the DND-AFP operations to ensure the officers and soldiers at the frontline are provisioned and well equipped.

Under DND Order 165 issued by Mrs. Arroyo as concurrent DND secretary, the maximum amounts allowed for contract approvals by AFP officers from their outdated 1996 levels were raised.

The AFP chief was raised to P5 million, from the previous P1.8 million, as well as those from the Army, Navy and Air Force heads to P3 million from the P1.4 million. Approval ceilings for other officers were doubled.

"Thus, there will be no need to split contracts and engage in so-called ‘conversion’ to make urgently needed purchases," De Guzman explained.

In addition, De Guzman said, the plan to set up one bids and awards committee for the entire AFP will further cut the procurement process which can take as long as 250 days to two years.

The so-called conversion anomalies and lack of equipment for the men in the field were among the issues raised by the juniors officers and servicemen in staging the July 27 mutiny.

The mutineers also demanded the resignation of Reyes and Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus as chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) who they accused of complicity in the Davao City bombing and high-level corruption. Both Reyes and Corpus denied the allegations.

Reyes resigned from the post a month after Corpus tendered his resignation as ISAFP chief. Show Of Support

"Destabilization plots are now consigned to the rumor mill, fueled by partisan quarters that either wish to usurp constitutional power, or to escape the rule of law and justice," the President told the retired generals at the Palace.

Trooping to Malacañang to show their support for Mrs. Arroyo were members of The Last Watering Hole Association (TLWHA) led by retired Col. Florentino Buenaventura Jr., Association of Brigadier Generals/Chief Superintendents/Commodore Pensioners of the Philippines (ABCOPOP) headed by retired police Superintendent Juan Gallardo Abuan Jr., Association of Generals and Flag Officers (AGFO) headed by Brig. Gen. Ernesto Gidaya, and Federation of Retired Commissioned and Enlisted Officers (FORCES) led by Angel Okol.

Earlier, Gidaya read a manifesto declaring the AGFO’s "unconditional support" for Mrs. Arroyo and her administration.

"Wherefore, resolve as it is hereby resolved, that the AGFO strongly manifests its adherence to the Constitution, to abide by and defend the same, as we unconditionally support President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her administration," read the manifesto.

AGFO also called for a stop to the "Jose Pidal" hearings on Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s allegations that First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo had laundered millions of pesos.

"Whereas, the above developments may be in the legitimate exercise of free speech in the fight against graft and corruption in government, but which situation has been exploited and manipulated by persons and/or groups whose real intention and sole purpose is to destabilize government and society to the detriment of the nation," read the manifesto.

"Our leaders and all our people" must restrain unscrupulous politicians and groups from exploiting the situation for their own ulterior motives to the grave prejudice of our national interest."

In a manifesto, ABCOPOP called for the removal of Navy Lt. (s.g) Antonio Trillanes IV, a member of Philippine Military Academy Class 1995 and spokesman for the failed July 27 military uprising, from the roster of the PMA Alumni Association.

The manifesto was read by Abuan, a Gold Cross awardee and member of PMA Class 1972, during the audience of retired military and police officers with Mrs. Arroyo.

Mrs. Arroyo said her administration had moved to increase the basic pay for military service even before about 300 junior military officers and troops launched a failed uprising last July 27.

"Today, we are moving more logistics, funds and financial

autonomy to the field, and enforcing policy control, sound management of resources and untrammeled command efficiency," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo praised the retired generals for providing examples of service and loyalty to military officers and troops in the active service.

"Despite the intrigues in the media, I never believed that any retired general worth his salt would ever support an extra-constitutional bid for power," she said.

"Because of your strong support for my government, destabilization plots are now consigned to the rumor mill."

Mrs. Arroyo said talk of such plots were "fueled by partisan quarters that either wish to usurp constitutional power or to escape the rule of law and justice."

The President called on the retired military officers to use their experience in helping reform the Armed Forces.

"I would like you to help me address the most vital concerns of the Armed Forces," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo also urged the retired generals to contribute to economic and political changes in the Philippines.

Mrs. Arroyo highlighted the help of the United States in upgrading the arms and equipment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

"(The US had been) a faithful ally in the modernization of our armed forces," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo also shrugged off rumors of a new coup plot against her administration, expressing confidence the military had left such plotting behind.

Last July 27, Mrs. Arroyo swiftly quashed a military uprising, but reports of new destabilization plots being hatched by retired or active military men continue to circulate.

The gathering of retired military and police officers was organized by National Security Adviser Roilo Golez. — With AP, AFP

GMA to visit W. Mindanao next week The Philippine Star 09/19/2003

President Arroyo is to fly to the southern Philippines next week to check on progress in the manhunt for fugitive Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) bomber Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, officials said yesterday.

Mrs. Arroyo is to visit first on Monday the southern island of Jolo, a stronghold of the Muslim Abu Sayyaf gunmen, before heading to the remote town of Tungawan in the Zamboanga peninsula, where al-Ghozi is believed to be hiding with the help of local militants.

"She will visit (Jolo) and Tungawan, which (the president) described as a ‘no-man’s land’, for the Al-Ghozi operations," presidential adviser Eduardo Ermita said.

Mrs. Arroyo in a statement Thursday said the manhunt for the Indonesian militant was not connected to the upcoming visit here next month of US President George W. Bush.

Mrs. Arroyo is a staunch supporter of the Bush government’s war on terrorism, and Washington has been helping the Philippines crush the Abu Sayyaf, a small group of Islamic militants linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.

The JI is believed to be the Southeast Asian arm of al-Qaeda, blamed for the bombings in Bali, Indonesia, that killed 202 people last October.

"Al-Ghozi is an isolated tactical target and his capture has nothing to do with the Bush visit," Mrs. Arroyo said. "The government is hot on the heels of Al-Ghozi and we will get him in due time."

Al-Ghozi, along with two Abu Sayyaf militants, escaped from a jail inside the Philippine National Police headquarters at Camp Crame in Quezon City last July 14.

The US government and Australia, another key anti-terror ally, had earlier criticized Manila for the escape.

One of the Abu Sayyaf militants who escaped with Al-Ghozi, Abdulmukim Ong Edris, was hunted down and killed near the Zamboanga peninsula last month, and military and police officials said they believe Al-Ghozi was still somewhere in the area.

Al-Ghozi was serving a 17-year jail term for explosives possession when he escaped. He has also been separately charged along with JI operations chief Hambali for a spate of bombings in Manila in 2000.

Hambali, also known as Riduan Isamuddin, is now in US custody after he was arrested in Thailand last month. – AFP, Marichu Villanueva


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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