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Junior officers question Ebdane appointment to Defense

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By Joel Guinto
Last updated 04:42pm (Mla time) 01/31/2007

MANILA, Philippines — A number of junior officers said Wednesday they were dismayed by the appointment of Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. as new defense chief, saying it cast doubt on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s commitment to military reforms.

However, a defense undersecretary defended the appointment, calling Ebdane, who also served as head of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the right man for the job.

The junior officers, who spoke on condition they were not named, questioned Ebdane’s capability to run the department following allegations that, during his stint as PNP chief, he helped Arroyo cheat her way to victory in the 2004 elections.

Ebdane was also accused of coddling former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, Arroyo’s alleged accomplice.

He has denied the charges.

The junior officers also claimed that the PNP was rocked by a number of major blunders with Ebdane at its helm from 2002 to 2004, notably the escape of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) explosives expert Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi from police headquarters in Camp Crame while Australian Prime Minister John Howard was in the country for an official visit.

“His [Ebdane’s] appointment is a sign that Arroyo has no plans of reforming the military…You can see the many blunders he committed while he was in the PNP,” a Navy officer said.

“When did Arroyo ever consider merits in making her Cabinet appointments?” a Marine officer asked. “As for Ebdane, what does he know about defense?”

An officer form the Army claimed “Ebdane forced himself upon GMA [Arroyo]. His appointment violated the [recommendations of the] Feliciano Commission and will cause trouble in the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines].”

The Feliciano Commission, which investigated the failed Oakwood mutiny in 2003, recommended that a civilian should run the DND to do away with the patronage or “bata-bata” system it said was common when former military men held the defense portfolio.

Ebdane’s predecessor, Avelino Cruz Jr., a lawyer, took over the DND in August 2004 pursuant to the Feliciano Commission’s recommendations.

Cruz resigned effective November 30, 2006 amid reports of infighting within the Cabinet over the failed attempt by the Palace and its allies to amend the Constitution through a signature drive or “people’s initiative.”

Arroyo handled the defense portfolio for 60 days. Ebdane is set to assume the DND leadership in turnover ceremonies Thursday morning.

Defense undersecretary Ernesto Carolina, a retired general and Ebdane’s classmate at the Philippine Military Academy, came to Ebdane’s defense.

“A civilian has a distinct advantage, an ex-military man has a distinct advantage. The best [thing to do] is you get somebody that has a blend of both…Meaning he has to have knowledge of the military and experience dealing with civilians,” Carolina said.

Asked if Ebdane was the right “blend” that he was referring to, Carolina said: “I think so, you said it.”

Ebdane’s appointment would bring to five the number of retired generals in the DND leadership. Aside from Carolina, undersecretaries Antonio Santos, Ariston delos Reyes, and Mateo Mayuga are also retired military men.

The only civilian undersecretary is Ricardo Blancaflor, who handles legal affairs and special concerns.

Carolina also played down the Feliciano Commission’s recommendation on the appointment of the defense secretary, saying there are “no hard and fast rules” in choosing DND chiefs.

He also assured the public that the DND would stick by its memorandum of understanding with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) limiting the role of the military in the May elections to responding to serious armed threats.

“That’s a MoA of the DND, that’s not a MoA of a person,” Carolina said.

The DND forged the MoA in October 2006, while Cruz was at the helm. The agreement was an offshoot of the 2004 election fraud controversy.

Unlike in 2004, soldiers will no longer be allowed to ferry election materials and military camps will not be used as polling precincts or canvassing sites, according to the MoA.

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Written by joelguinto

Wed+00:002007-01-31T10:17:09+00:00+00:0001b+00:00Wed, 31 Jan 2007 10:17:09 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am01

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