COLUMN:  DND  NEEDS  MAGSAYSAY-LIKE  CHIEF

MANILA, NOVEMBER 10, 2006
(STAR) DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco - What the Department of Defense needs most now is a head in the mold of the late President Ramon Magsaysay when he was Secretary of Defense. RM got the fractious armed forces together and inspired it to focus on the job at hand, which was to end the Hukbalahap insurgency. It was RMís honesty and sincerity that won over the soldiers and eventually, even the insurgents.

Today, we need the cyber ageís version of Ramon Magsaysay. Resigned DND Secretary Nonong Cruz would probably be the first to object to any suggestion that he could have been it. But given more time to implement his Philippine Defense Reform program or PDR, he just might have been exactly what the defense establishment needed to repair itself.

If there was anything that Nonong had to begin with, it is credibility. And thatís something none of the pretenders to his position have. Nonong started off with his reputation for professionalism, integrity and intelligence, all needed to clean an institution thatís like the fabled Augean stables.

His being a successful civilian professional also provided hope there would be out-of-the-box thinking that couldnít be expected from ex-Generals normally appointed to the position. The last civilian defense secretary, Orly Mercado, also started innovations that attempted to clean the military establishment of corruption. To follow through what Nonong started, DND needs another civilian with no mistahs to worry about.

Newsbreak editor in chief Marites Danguilan Vitug, who has closely watched the defense establishment for years, notes that "everything thatís wrong with the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces had already been figured out in a review done by the DND and the Pentagon in 2003." The Joint Defense Assessment or JDA came up with recommendations under the PDR rubric to address systemic problems in the defense establishment. It was only when Nonong took over that the PDR gained momentum.

Vitug observed "it took a civilian defense secretary to push it Ė retired general Eduardo Ermita and former AFP chief of staff Angelo Reyes were his predecessors. And it took another civilian defense secretary, Orlando Mercado, to initiate the joint defense review." Before his appointment to the DND, Nonong sat in the Cabinet oversight committee on internal security and became familiar with defense issues, meeting the top brass in the process.

"He brings a new perspective, a fresh approach and some corporate-ness," Vitug quotes Undersecretary Antonio Santos, a retired general who has been with the DND since 2001. "He is changing the culture from operational-tactical to strategic." Expectedly, the stodgy organization with vested interests all over the place, didnít appreciate this.

The PDR is Nonongís "bible" so to speak, his ultimate guide to retooling the defense establishment. Nonong was banking on the PDR as the program that may yet transform the military from a stodgy, half-capable organization to one that can finally reap decisive victories in the battlefield. Finally, we have a Defense Chief who had an action plan for the armed forces that would justify the massive amounts of tax money being allocated for them.

Thatís why it is such a pity that Nonong became a casualty of Cabinet infighting. Admittedly, the PDR has some ways to go. The AFP is not expected to be "fully mission capable," meaning at their optimal best Ė well trained and properly equipped Ė to defeat the insurgents just yet. Experts say perhaps that could happen in six to 10 years, assuming Nonongís successor buys it and is successful in inculcating the new management system at the AFP. As of this year, their level of performance is less than a hundred percent.

What is the PDR? As Newsbreak reports it, PDR is in essence a paradigm shift: that the defense establishment leaders take a long view and look at the system, not the parts. This means veering away from yearly programs and using a key tool in looking ahead and making decisions, the multi-year capability planning system. The DND shorthand for this is MYCAPS. It is the heart of the new culture that Cruz has introduced into the defense organization.

MYCAPS is the basis for making decisions on resource allocation. It looks at "defense mission" rather than threat as major factor in planning. The ultimate objective is to provide commanders with the best mix of forces, equipment, and support attainable within budget constraints Ė and to make commanders resource managers. Since the priority is internal security, budgets and organization should match the mission, and fit weapons and strategy.

PDR has initially resulted in four F5s or fighter jets to be mothballed. The Air Force fighter wing has been downsized. The Logistics Command has been deactivated. J-staff (headquarters) has been reduced from 11 to six divisions. Desk-bound administrative positions have been cut down and more men have been sent to the frontlines. More changes are expected. The soon-to-be declassified Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) for 2007 to 2012 lays down fiscal limits, priorities in reductions, investment in training, among others. "We have successfully undergone a first cycle of MYCAPS that yielded the first ever DPG," Nonong told Vitug. "This instilled discipline in the budget process."

Expectedly, these decisions have not been easy. There have been regular debates among top DND and AFP officials on resource allocation. With a tight budget, tough calls have to be made on personnel reduction and de-commissioning of weapons.

Vitug reports that for example, the retirement of the F5s is unpopular in the Air Force. Itís emotional. The F5 is the symbol of the Air Force. It would take about P100 million to keep the fighter jets in good condition. Instead, the money would go to the maintenance of helicopters that are needed in keeping domestic security.

Vitug explains that Nonong made the defense establishment think in new ways about its practices. He brought in a team, mostly of civilians, and has reorganized the DND into a corporate-style organization. "Corporations evolved to be nimble organizations as they pursue the bottom line. Military organizations are traditional and hierarchical. However, these two types of organizations must cross paths every now and then," Nonong told Vitug. "The tried and tested systems in the corporate world (financial controls, budget planning, etc.) must be introduced in military organizations."

Nonongís vision is for the DND to thrive in a civilian-military synergy. "Civilians have wide perspective and innovative ideas. Mix this with military discipline, talent, and technical expertise," he told Newsbreak. His plan is to build up the civilian capability of DND and hire 100 young professionals who will see the DND as a "place for them to contribute to the country and be good for training" in fields like defense acquisition and defense planning. These are "complex and esoteric subjects," and Nonong believes there is a need to develop expertise in these areas.

Vitug describes Nonong as something "like an airplane in mid-air, en route to its destination. Heís focused and determined and refuses to let his reform agenda be hijacked by anyone." There is little doubt that Cruz is on the right track. But Vitug observed that "the reality is that the commander in chief does not seem to share his long-term view of building the AFP as a strong institution. Indications of these are the politicized appointments in the military and the reported involvement of some military officers in cheating for the President in the 2004 elections."

So, what happens now? Will the President appoint someone as dedicated and intelligent as Nonong? Thatís doubtful, if the supposed short list of potential successors being circulated is any indication. It would be great if retiring Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., who has headed the Senate Defense Committee for a long time, was tapped. He would be under pressure to live up to the standards of his father. But because he took a tough position on the Joc Joc Bolante case, hell would freeze over before Ate Glue appoints him.

All we are left with as supposed choices to replace Nonong are retired police generals, a loose cannon of a national insecurity adviser and a gaggle of politicians led by Rep. Prospero Pichay, a close confidant of the First Gentleman. Most likely, Nonongís PDR would end up hijacked in mid-air for the greater glory of the political agenda of Ate Glue and company.

Oh wellÖ such is life in these 7,000 islands. Just when something somewhere is going right, something terrible happens that stops it. Itís almost as if as a people, we are allergic to even a mere threat of success.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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