Monday, March 8, 2010

Bangit choice raises suspicions - Gordon

By Mike Frialde
The Philippine Star
Updated March 09, 2010
12:00 AM

Original Story:

MANILA, Philippines - Bagumbayan presidential bet Sen. Richard Gordon said yesterday the appointment of Gen. Delfin Bangit as chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) raises suspicions that President Arroyo is “up to something.”

“It is kind of dangerous for the President to appoint Bangit. At this time, it just adds fuel to the fire, the fire that there is extension, that this (energy) shortage is artificial. She is putting more problems on her lap by doing all these things,” Gordon told editors and reporters of The STAR yesterday.

With less than four months before she steps down from office, Mrs. Arroyo has appointed her former chief bodyguard and one of her most trusted generals to the military’s top post, succeeding Gen. Victor Ibrado, who retires tomorrow upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56.

Bangit, who built his career on counter-insurgency and intelligence operations, belongs to Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class ‘78, of which Mrs. Arroyo is an adopted member.

Gordon said that while he acknowledges that Bangit is a good military officer, his appointment as AFP chief could prove dangerous for Mrs. Arroyo.

“I was in the Commission on Appointments. I think he is a good officer. But it does have the people’s perception that the President is up to something,” he said.

There were rumors last week that Ibrado would be extended after traditional farewell parades in his honor were cancelled.

He, however, said in an interview that he prefers to retire as scheduled despite appeals from some lawmakers that his term be extended to help reduce possible political tensions in the May elections with the appointment of a new military chief.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said the President considered all factors before deciding to appoint Bangit.

Bangit was commander of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) from February 2003 to July 2006 during which time Mrs. Arroyo faced at least three determined attempts from rightist military officers and leftist rebels to oust her, including the Oakwood mutiny in 2003.

He was the longest-serving PSG chief under the Arroyo administration.

After his stint at the PSG, he was assigned as chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), where he served for over a year until September 2007.

From ISAFP, he was named commander of Army’s 2nd Infantry Division based in Tanay, Rizal, one of the hotbeds of the communist insurgency, and was later appointed commander of the AFP Southern Luzon Command in Tarlac until June 2009.

Bangit took the required Command and Staff Course at the Australian Army Command and Staff College.

He also underwent Anti-Urban Terrorist Patrol Training at the Louisiana State Police Academy and the Foreign Officer Tactical Intelligence Course at the School for Military Intelligence in Australia.

He obtained his Master of Defense Studies from the University of Canberra, Australia in 2000.

He is a recipient of the Philippine Legion of Honor, five Distinguished Service Star Medals, three Bronze Cross Medals, 20 Military Merit Medals, and the US Army Commendation Medal.

Bangit is married to Daisy Magdangal. They have three children - Harold, Diane and Hector.

No political patronage

Bangit’s mistah, Metro police chief Director Roberto Rosales, vowed yesterday that their class will not be used to further the political ambitions of some personalities in the coming elections.

“We earned our ranks and positions right now through merits and accomplishments and not through political patronage,” he said.

Rosales clarified in a radio interview that they adopted Mrs. Arroyo in 1997 while she was still a senator.

“We have no inkling then that she would rise and become president of the country. But just the same, we have not used our relationship with her to gain favor, especially in our promotions,” said Rosales.

Another round of demoralization?

But Bangit’s appointment, according to some senior and middle-grade officers, could trigger another round of unrest and demoralization within the uniformed services.

While agreeing that Bangit’s designation as the next AFP chief is the President’s prerogative as commander-in-chief, they described this as “ill-advised and uncalled for.”

“We are not against Gen. Bangit’s designation. What we are concerned is, this could fuel another round of unrest and demoralization within our ranks,” one senior officer said.

“Isn’t it awkward for Lt. Gen. Rodrigo Maclang and Vice Admiral Emilio Marayag to be serving as AFP vice chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, respectively, of Gen. Bangit?” one officer said.

Maclang and Marayag, as well as Lt. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) commander, Navy Chief Vice Admiral Ferdinand Golez and Vice Admiral Leonardo Calderon, PMA Superintendent, are members of PMA class 76, two years Bangit’s senior.

Aside from PMA Class 76, Bangit also bypassed a number of senior officers belonging to PMA Class 77.

Rebel soldier group Magdalo, for its part, challenged Bangit to leave behind a legacy of credible elections.

“The Magdalo group is hopeful that the coming elections will be an opportunity not only for him (Bangit) but for the entire Armed Forces to help ensure for the Filipino people a truly peaceful and credible election,” Magdalo spokesman Ashley Acedillo said in a text message.

“We are praying that the new chief of staff appreciates that the coming national and local elections will be a lasting legacy for him and the entire AFP,” he added.

AFP: Give him a chance

But the AFP immediately called on critics to give Bangit a chance.

“Gen. Bangit has a good track record. Unfortunately, this has been tainted with a little controversy because of the alleged connections (with the President). But then again, let us give him a chance to lead this organization, which is already professional. It is an organization that Gen. Ibrado will be leaving with disciplined soldiers,” AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. said in a press briefing.

“Whoever the CS (chief of staff) will be, the organization will continue to be professional, especially with the coming elections. The organization will remain non-partisan. The organization will not be used for any election-related interest of groups,” he said.

Brawner conceded that Maclang is more senior but said that “probably one factor why the President chose Gen. Bangit is because he has more time left in the service than the other more senior contenders.”

Ibrado, on the other hand, described Bangit as “very professional.”

“As far as I am concerned, he is very professional, he has proven that he is a very good commander, and I think he would do a good job as chief of staff,” he said, adding that Bangit was among the candidates he recommended to the Board of Generals.

Ibrado also labeled as “unfair” talks that Bangit will use the military to cheat in the upcoming elections.

All eyes on Bangit

Meanwhile, Liberal Party presidential candidate Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and his running mate Sen. Manuel Roxas II expressed fear over the appointment of someone very close to President Arroyo, given her record of alleged cheating in the 2004 elections.

“This appointment is wrong. So many groups are disappointed that the neutrality of the AFP in the coming elections is severely put at risk with someone as fiercely loyal to the President now at the helm of the AFP,” Aquino said.

Roxas said the appointment of Bangit was worrisome because it was no secret that he belonged to the class that adopted Mrs. Arroyo.

“Many were bypassed because of this appointment and this class now holds all major service commands. That is why we are warning everyone to be alert to thwart any evil plan of this administration,” Roxas said.

He appealed to PMA class ‘78, whose members now hold the different commands of the AFP and PNP, “to be true to their sworn duty to the Constitution for the sake of the Filipino people.”

Roxas said the military’s role in the elections was very important.

He also said the President must be careful about Bangit’s appointment as it would come on March 10, which could be covered by the 60-day ban on presidential appointments toward the end of her term.

“This is another example of a gray area (appointing officials during the two-month ban). This shows how the administration is forcing or stretching the letter of the law even if it’s against the spirit of the law. This is the reason why speculations arise as to the evil plans or motive (behind the appointment),” Roxas said.

Sen. Francis Escudero, on the other hand, said Bangit should prove and show his impartiality and commitment to clean, honest and peaceful elections.

“Given his closeness to President Arroyo, he must prove himself to our people and must be above suspicion,” Escudero said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, LP spokesman, challenged the new AFP chief to prove his loyalty to the Constitution and the rule of law and not to the appointing power.

“All eyes are on him and we expect him as a professional soldier not to allow the AFP to be a tool to prop up a very unpopular administration through unconstitutional and illegal means. We challenge the new AFP chief of staff to prove his loyalty to the Constitution and the rule of law and not to the appointing power,” Pangilinan said. - With Paolo Romero, Jaime Laude, Non Alquitran, Alexis Romero, Christina Mendez, Aurea Calica

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