While there is no doubt that the President can exercise her prerogative in selecting who the Chief of Staff of the AFP is, such a prerogative is not always infallible. The extension of General Hermogenes Esperon is an example of such a prerogative.
This is my view in the wake of the announcement of Malacanang Palace that the term of AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Esperon will be extended “until further notice”, citing the need to “maintain the momentum of the anti-insurgency campaign of the AFP’s Bantay Laya”.
Being the Vice-Chairman of the House Committee on National Defense, I see the explanation given by the Palace as proof that the consideration was personal, not professional.
In the past, the Palace and the AFP leadership repeatedly emphasized that the military has never been more professionalized than the recent years. But being professional means that not only does it fulfill its duties and responsibilities without political color, it should also mean that the success of its performance relies not on individual personalities but rather on the collective acts of the officers and men of the AFP.
To prove the claim of professionalism, the momentum of the success of AFP’s Bantay Laya should rely on the institution, not on an individual officer or soldier. To say that the momentum depends on the continued occupation by Gen. Esperon of the post of Chief of Staff is to say that the AFP is a one-man team, which it is not.
The essence of an effective military organization is that the individual members are able to operate together to form a single force. It does not rely on the individual to achieve success. If success relied only on an individual, then that individual becomes the weakest link in the whole chain. If they see Gen. Esperon as the only means of maintaining the momentum of Bantay Laya, then he is the weakest link. Gen. Esperon is not exactly the epitome of non-controversy. He would only be infecting the whole institution with his being controversial.
The AFP should be able to prove that the institution is also capable of maintaining the momentum of its success even if there is leadership change. The retirement of generals is inevitable, so the institution should always be ready with a steady flow of capable and competent officers who can take over the role of AFP Chief of Staff when the incumbent retires. It is fatal for an armed force not to have a ready pool of officers to take the mantle of leadership upon the retirement of an incumbent Chief of Staff and carry on whatever momentum the organization has in fulfilling its mandate.
For me, the extension of Gen. Esperon on the grounds of maintining the AFP’s momentum reveals that the Palace does not have confidence in the generals who are qualified to succeed the retiring general. It is equivalent to saying that the generals who may succeed the retiring Chief of Staff will only bungle the supposedly good job that Gen. Esperon has done.
This is counter-productive to the AFP’s drive towards professionalization. In fact, it only politicizes the military. With the retention of Gen. Esperon, it only emphasizes the Palace’s reliance on personalities in the AFP instead of the organization as a single institution.
While I respect the President’s prerogative, I appeal to her, for the sake of the AFP as a professional institution, to heed wisdom and reconsider her extension of General Esperon. Huwag personalan. Trabaho lang.