Monday, March 8, 2010

Gloria names Garci general AFP chief (Deja vu poll fraud operations looms, feared)

By Mario J. Mallari

Original Story:

President Arroyo yesterday named Army chief Lt. Gen. Delfin Bangit, who was reportedly part of the military operations taking orders to cheat for her victory from her and former Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner Virgilio “Garci” Garcillano and one of her known military generals personally loyal to her and her family, as incoming chief of the 130,000-strong Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), despite public apprehensions on his taking over the top military post during the election period.

Bangit, a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1978 which has the Commander-in-Chief as honorary member, will formally assume the AFP top post on Wednesday, the retirement day of outgoing AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56.

Bangit, known as “Emperor” to the officers and men, was once caught by media distributing money, throwing it up in the air for the soldiers to scramble over during a military Christmas party hosted by him.

The appointment of Bangit was expected, with the tell-tale sign of his becoming the AFP chief of staff when Arroyo appointed him as the Philippine Army chief — a promotion leading to the top military post.

Former Constabulary chief retired Maj. Gen. Ramon Montano raised the possibility that Bangit’s appointment would lead to the military again being used by the Arroyo administration to rig the May polls.

“We in the retired ranks who are in touch with the still idealistic elements of the AFP fear that the designation of Bangit as CSAFP will confirm their apprehension and the perception of the people that the military will again be used to frustrate the people’s will in the 2010 elections,” said Montano.

The former PC chief cited the 2004 alleged rigging of the presidential elections in favor of Arroyo.

“GMA during the 2004 elections skillfully used her cabal of blindly loyal military officers and political running dogs to destroy the political opposition,” said Montano.

“We pray that this desperate plot of this administration to cling to power shall be stopped by the might of the Filipino people and the idealistic, honorable members of the AFP,” added Montano.

Arroyo herself confirmed it will be Bangit who has been appointed as top military chief replacing Gen. Victor Ibrado who is set to retire tomorrow, March 10, upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56 amid frequent appeals made by several sectors for the extension of his term.

Interviewed at the sidelines by Palace reporters after her second speaking engagement held at San Sebastian College campus in Manila, Arroyo said she has appointed Bangit as successor to Ibrado -- an appointment that has caused apprehension long before it was announced.

Bangit, a graduate of Philippine Military Class Batch 1978, is known to many as one of Arroyo’s most trusted generals whose loyalty to her has been tried and tested by time.

He is allegedly among those military officials responsible for saving the Arroyo administration despite the grueling coup attempts plotted by the Magdalo group during the tumultuous years of her reign.

Prior to serving as top brass in the Philippine Army, Bangit was the commander of the Southern Luzon Command and commanding general to Philippine Army’s 2nd Infantry Division from September 2007 to May 2008.

He also held positions as chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines from August 2006 to September 2007 and group commander to the Presidential Security Group from February 2003 to July 2006.

Ibrado has been consistent is expressing reluctance amid growing encouragement for him to consider staying at the AFP helm for a few more months or just right after the May elections are held in order to guarantee the stability of much-needed national security during this critical period.

In his last interview, Ibrado said it would be better if he is allowed to retire so that other soldiers who also have enough qualifications could be given a well-deserved opportunity of serving the AFP as its Chief of Staff.

Bangit was appointed as incoming AFP chief despite the growing clamor for the extension of Ibrado’s term as military chief to give way stable military organization during the presidential elections in May. No less than former AFP chief, Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, has called for the extension of Ibrado’s term until after the polls.

At least two presidential aspirants, Nacionalista Party’s Sen. Manny Villar and Liberal Party’s Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, had called for the extension of Ibrado.

Earlier, the mutinous Magdalo Group expressed rejection over the possible appointment of Bangit instead clamored for the extension of Ibrado’s term. The group spokesman, former Air Force Lt. Ashley Acedillo, said the appointment of Bangit could trigger suspicion regarding the elections while extending Ibrado would maintain stability in the military.

There were also apprehensions, aired by detained Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, about the possible repeat of the “Hello Garci” controversy in 2004 when several top-ranking military officers were mentioned in the infamous recordings of conversations of then Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano regarding alleged rigging of the presidential polls.

“Those are unfair accusations,” said Ibrado.

Among the AFP officials mentioned in the “Hello Garci” recordings were then AFP deputy chief of staff for operations or J3 Maj Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr., who rose to become AFP chief; then Southern Command chief Lt. Gen. Roy Kyamko, then Army 1st Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Gabriel Habacon, and then Marine Col. Francisco Gudani.

“As far as I am concerned, he (Bangit) 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,” added Ibrado.

For his part, Bangit expressed elation over his appointment as AFP chief as he vowed to do his best to serve the Filipino people.“I am very thankful with the decision of the Commander-in-Chief. More than it being an honor for me, I would like to assure the people that I will do my very best to serve the interest of this nation and the Filipino people. Just as what I did when I assumed command of the Philippine Army. I assured every member of the organization that I will be a very, very good commander to them,” said Bangit.

AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner also maintained that appointment of Bangit will not, in any way, affect the professionalism in the military organization as he junked the possibility of the military being used by certain sectors during the May polls.

“These are only speculations and the AFP as an organization will not allow that...we have thinking soldiers, we are professional, we are disciplined. Our soldiers know what is right and what is wrong, that is why we believe that the AFP will remain professional regardless of who is the CS,” said Brawner.

At the same time, Brawner said the military ranks expect the same “discipline and professionalism” among the troops under Bangit’s watch as emphasized during the term of Ibrado.

“We appeal to our countrymen, let’s give General Bangit a chance because as a military commander, he has been very professional and this is manifested in his accomplishments. He has been a good intelligence officer, he has been a good infantry commander. From being a platoon leader, he rose to the career ladder of AFP officership,” stressed Brawner.

Meanwhile, senators dared Bangit to perform his mandate beyond politics, citing the post’s strategic role in the forthcoming national polls.

Senators Francis “Chiz” Escudero and Francis Pangilinan made the twin call following the Arroyo announcement.

Bangit was among the four military generals implicated in the “Hello, Garci scandal”, involving alleged massive rigging of the poll results during the 2004 presidential elections.

“He 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.

Escudero raised the alarm given the experience in the 2004 polls where he served as spokesman to the then opposition party, Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) with the late movie icon Fernando Poe Jr. as the standard bearer.

Pangilinan, who was then aligned with the administration, even acting as majority leader for the Senate when the two Houses of Congress convened as national board of canvassers for the presidential and vice presidential elections, made the same call.

Pangilinan had earlier ignored the 2004 opposition calls to have the election returns scrutinized, as there was already evidence of poll fraud.

But now he says: “He should bear in mind that his appointment comes at a time when there is a great deal of anxiety over allegations that this administration has no intention of stepping down after June 30, 2010. 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,” Pangilinan said.

“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,” said Pangilinan.

Liberal Party (LP) vice presidential candidate Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II also raised the alarm over the appointment of Bangit, given what he noted as the apparent preferential treatment Arroyo has been giving to members of the PMA class ’78.

This matter, he pointed out, has been quite obvious since a number of military officers belonging to the said PMA batch have been given postings in various major service commands, bypassing some more senior officials.

“This is a cause for concern, to be on guard to prevent whatever covert act this government might be thinking now,” he said.

Roxas urged the Philippine National Police (PNP) to adhere to its mandate and protect public interest at all times.

“The military’s role is very important. There are some areas in the country where there are known private armies existing like Maguindanao and it is where the military’s role will come in, that of keeping law and order and regular conduct of elections,” he said.

Roxas also voiced concern over Bangit’s assumption of the post being covered by the 60-day ban on new appointments.“This is one example of the administration trying to stretch the letter of the law even if it does not conform to the spirit of the law, thus sowing various speculations as to their possible nefarious plans,” said Roxas. With Aytch S. dela Cruz and Angie M. Rosales

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