JANUARY 27, 2007 (STAR) By Jaime Laude - President Arroyo is expected to relinquish her post as acting defense secretary when she meets her top defense officials next week.

Mrs. Arroyo, who assumed the defense portfolio in an acting capacity for two months following the resignation of Avelino Cruz, is now attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Her two-month stint as acting defense secretary gave her the opportunity to directly oversee the ongoing implementation of the Philippine Defense Reform (PDR) initiated by Cruz.

The two months also gave her enough time to search for Cruz’s replacement.

"She (The President) is scheduled to hold a meeting next week to tackle issues on defense acquisition," said director Rosulo Manlangit of the Defense Office of Public Affairs (OPA).

Manlangit, however, could not confirm any other announcements that would be coming from the President upon her return from Switzerland.

Mrs. Arroyo is expected to announce the appointment of Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. as the next defense chief.

Ebdane himself admitted his eagerness to assume the defense post if the President names him to it.

Ebdane was among the personalities that backed Mrs. Arroyo during the second EDSA people power revolt that ousted Joseph Estrada from the presidency.

It was also reported that Ebdane shielded the President from further harm brought about by the "Hello Garci" controversy by allegedly taking under his custody former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

Meanwhile, discussions on the recently concluded RP-US defense steering committee meeting on the PDR have centered on the gains of the country’s ongoing anti-terrorism campaign and its success.

Aside from the PDR progress’ updates, US defense and military officials praised the ongoing RP-US joint anti-terror drive in Mindanao, a ranking official revealed.

Ebdane: I want defense post The Philippine Star 01/26/2007

Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. defended yesterday his reported appointment to the top post of the Department of National Defense even as Malacañang has yet to confirm his new appointment.

In an interview with reporters, Ebdane admitted that he finds the recommendation of former defense secretary Avelino Cruz Jr. and the Feliciano Commission, which drafted military reforms after the 2003 Oakwood mutiny, favoring the appointment of a civilian to the top DND post "unfair and biased."

"They want a civilian to head the DND, but there are also a lot of problems in this agency that could only be addressed by someone from the Armed Forces," he said. "We also need to understand that the recommendations of the committee are still subject for approval or disapproval of authority."

Being a former military official, Ebdane believes he is equipped with a background that is necessary in leading the DND and a capability for deciding quickly on crucial issues.

"We adopt a minimum of two solutions and these are all practiced on a regular basis," Ebdane said. "In combat, you do not have the luxury of time to think for too long. Most of the time, you need to decide on what is inside your gray matter. That is the big difference between us in the military and the civilians."

When asked if he has plans for the DND, Ebdane said he would rather wait for the official appointment from Malacañang before making such plans.

An exclusive report by The STAR revealed Ebdane’s appointment as DND chief, which President Arroyo is reportedly set to announce at the end of this month.

Ebdane has also hinted at his transfer to DND when he admitted he had a closed-door meeting with the President on Tuesday and discussed "major reorganizations" at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and "several qualifications of a (department) secretary."

"There are many factors not included in the books. There are moral, social and political issues (and) concerns. I have laid down the parameters for consideration but I will not mention names," he said when asked about a pending reshuffle at the DPWH.

He also said he will not hesitate to accept the appointment as defense secretary: "If the news reports about me being the next DND chief were true, then the President will not need to say it twice because I will accept it. I will be a hypocrite if I will say that I do not desire for it."

Ebdane served as National Security Adviser and Director General of the National Security Council, vice-chairman of the Anti-Terrorism Task Force and National Anti-Terrorism coordinator and as the 13th chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), before he was appointed DPWH secretary.

A veteran of law enforcement, intelligence operations and public safety administration, Ebdane finished his Bachelor of Science degree at the Philippine Military Academy in 1970 before he earned a master’s degree in Criminology and a doctorate in Peace and Security Administration.

Meanwhile, Ebdane’s appointment as defense chief may spark restiveness within the military ranks, as the move is against the recommendations of the Feliciano Commission, sources within the military said.

"Personally, I feel awkward that a former policeman would be in charge of DND-AFP. I believe it is in violation of the spirit of the Feliciano Commission," one source said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said Ebdane’s appointment could cause restiveness among soldiers, although he hopes that this will not lead to another military uprising.

"For me, a mistake cannot be corrected with another mistake," the source said.

Should Ebdane take the helm of the DND, then he should pursue the reforms in the military that were initiated by Cruz, the source said.

"I just hope (Ebdane) could deliver what is expected of him," the source said.

Another source believes that if Ebdane departs from the path of reforms, it would be a "cause for concern" for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP): "Our soldiers are already expecting the reforms. If the line should vary, it would be a cause for concern."

But this source said Ebdane, after taking on several government posts following his retirement from the PNP, has already "acclimatized" himself with the civilian environment.

"I believe he could serve the department. It’s just that he should push through with reforms in the military," the source told The STAR in a telephone interview.

There is still no official confirmation from Mrs. Arroyo on Ebdane’s appointment.

After Cruz resigned, some sources in the military said the Philippine Defense Reform Program, which is aimed at enhancing the capability of the military in dealing with enemies of the state, including terrorist groups, may lose its focus and may go to waste. — Edu Punay and James Mananghaya

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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