MALACANANG, September 2, 2003  (STAR) President Arroyo said Monday she will use her stint as defense secretary to strengthen the chain of command, ensure the firm dominance of civilian authority and mop up corruption.

The President took over the defense portfolio Friday after accepting the resignation of Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, the second government casualty of a military mutiny last month. Reyes said he hoped his action would give the President a free hand to deal with alleged coup plotters.

"We aim to maintain the firm hold of civilian authority over the military devoid of the ‘old boys’ networks and special relationships," Mrs. Arroyo said in a statement.

The President was alluding to the relationships between "mistahs" or alumni of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) who reportedly watch each others’ backs.

Defense Undersecretary Feliciano Gacis Jr. said the President will be temporary Deparment of National Defense (DND) chief for six weeks until a replacement for Reyes is selected.

Her concurrent portfolio as DND chief and commander-in-chief, Mrs. Arroyo said, will only be a "temporary arrangement."

"After my short stint as defense chief, I shall expect my successor in the department to follow through," the President said.

Disgruntled junior military officers who led the failed July 27 mutiny had demanded the resignations of the President, Reyes, former Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) chief Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus and other leaders.

Former President Fidel Ramos, himself a former DND chief, said that he is not interested in the post of Defense Secretary and said he received no offer.

The mutineers accused Reyes, a former AFP chief of staff, of masterminding two deadly bombings in Davao City and "micromanaging" the Armed Forces.

They also complained of corruption in the military.

The President said she will press Reyes’ institutional initiatives.

"We are already moving logistics to the field through the prudent us of sound administrative tools and procedures," she said. "Together with the leadership of the AFP, we are going to mop up endemic corruption," Mrs. Arroyo said.

She added that good management and sound military justice will address some causes of dissatisfaction.

Going Home To Mom

Now that he has given up his post at the helm of the DND, Reyes must vacate his quarters at Camp Aguinaldo.

Since his controversial house in Taguig remains unfinished, Reyes is returning to his family’s ancestral home in San Juan to live temporarily with his 92-year-old mother, Purificacion.

"Our house is not yet finished, so we may look for a place to rent," Reyes said. "Maybe I can stay with my mother. It’s okay, there’s no problem."

Besides living in the Reyes family’s ancestral home, the former defense chief is also having second thoughts about looking for a place to rent where he and his wife, Teresita, can care for their only granddaughter, Andrea, daughter of their son Angelito.

As of yesterday, Reyes and his wife had yet to finish packing their personal possessions in preparation for exiting the Camp Aguinaldo compound..

Reyes had a farewell lunch with military officers and men at his quarters inside Camp Aguinaldo

Describing his current activities as apostolic work, Reyes said he most enjoyed taking care of his 20-month old granddaughter.

"There wonder in the thrill of taking care of your grandchild," Reyes said. The apostolic work I am talking about is taking care of my granddaughter... it’s always exciting because, when (I was) a father (I) missed a lot of times with (my) children."

Teresita said she welcomed her husband’s resignation, saying she will not be alone in caring for their granddaughter. "At least we are happy to be able to care for our granddaughter," she said.

Anybody Credible

Junior and middle-grade military officers urged the president to appoint anybody credible to the helm of the DND — anybody credible who is not a politician.

"Any credible individual but (a) politician. Whether he may be an ex-military officer or from the civilian sector for as long as he is not a politician," is the officers’ choice for the DND top post.

The list of possible DND secretaries is long and does, indeed, contain the names of people prominent in the political arena:

former Armed Forces chiefs of Cimatu, Dionisio Santiago and Presidential Adviser on strategic concerns Renato De Villa, who is also a retired DND chief, as well as former Army chief and Ambassador Fortunato Abat; Senators Ramon Magsaysay and Rodolfo Biazon, former President Fidel Ramos, La Union Rep. Tomas Dumpit and presidential adviser on the peace process Eduardo Ermita.

"The AFP should be apolitical and the President must have the wisdom (of) appointing the defense chief who is not only acceptable to both the defense and military establishments, but the one who has an unblemished record while in (the) public or private (sector)," the officers said in a statement.

At the House of Representatives, Agusan del Sur Rep. Rodolfo Plaza expressed support for calls to appoint Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay to the top DND post.

"Let us move fast (to appoint a new DND secretary) because the Filipino people now need to see stability within the defense arm of our democratic system," Plaza said.

Pichay said he is honored by the calls for his appointment as DND chief, but said there is no offer. "The duties of a defense secretary is no ordinary feat. It requires uniting the AFP and imposing discipline, a tall order for the next (defense) secretary," he said.

Reyes, for his part, said finding his replacement will not be difficult for the President. "There are many viable candidates, there are many people who are suitable for the job, so we just have to wait for the President’s decision," he said.


In Tarlac City, left-leaning groups suspect that Reyes has become a "liability" and has been rendered "ineffective" in carrying out the supposed "interests of US imperialism" in the county that he was "dropped like a hot potato" by the Pentagon.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Teodoro Casiño said Reyes apparently "lost the trust" of Washington after he was openly identified as the brains behind the deadly bombings in Davao City by the Magdalo group that staged a failed July 27 mutiny in Makati City.

The bombings at the Davao International Airport and Sasa Wharf were blamed on the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the communist New People’s Army (NPA), even after the Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Casiño said the United States seemingly saw Reyes as a "divisive" factor within the Philippine military, as the failed mutiny also "isolated" him from the soldiers.

He said Washington believes that Reyes’ Aug. 29 resignation might calm the restiveness of junior military officers.

He said Reyes "aroused the anger of the soldiers" because of alleged widespread corruption during his tenure, while the militant ranks of civil society now take him as an "enemy" due to his "hard-line position" against the government’s peace talks with the MILF and the communists’ underground political wing, the National Democratic Front (NDF).

In the House, party-list Reps. Satur Ocampo, Crispin Beltran and Liza Maza of Bayan Muna said Reyes’ resignation "should not exonerate him" from allegations that he committed graft and corruption and plotted the Davao bombings.

Militant groups, along with secessionist and communist rebel leaders suspect that the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) "supervised the terrorist bomb attacks in Davao as a pretext for the large-scale deployment of American troops in Mindanao.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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