The Long View: Out of sight, out of mind

The Long View
Out of sight, out of mind
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:49:00 04/30/2009

It’s probable that as far as the governments of Brunei and the Netherlands are concerned, they won’t object to Generals Alexander Yano and Cardozo Luna being made Philippine ambassadors to those countries. And while feathers have been ruffled in the Department of Foreign Affairs – the appointments will affect the chances of careerists reaching retirement age achieving plum ambassadorial posts – the DFA is also used to career diplomats rudely being shoved aside to accommodate political appointees.

It’s significant that Yano is being compared to the late Rafael Ileto, as far as the chief executive’s motives for sending him abroad. Nearly all the press reports on the Yano appointment bring up Ileto, who was Armed Forces deputy chief of staff, being made an ambassador to get him out the way because he registered objections to martial law.

President Marcos himself, in his diary, makes no mention of any such objections in entries such as this one, dated May 8, 1972: ” After the meeting I directed Sec. Ponce Enrile, the Chief of Staff, Gen. Espino, Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. Ileto, PC Chief, Gen. Ramos, PA Chief, Gen. Zagala, Air Force Chief, Gen. Rancudo, 1st PC Zone Commander, Gen. Tomas Diaz, IV PC Zone Commander, Gen. Encarnacion, Asst. Chief of Staff, J-2, Col. Paz, to update the contingency plans and the list of target personalities in the event of the use of emergency powers.”

Ileto remained deputy chief of staff up to 1973 and was even promoted to vice chief of staff in 1974. It wasn’t until 1975 that he was sent overseas as ambassador, although he remained a commissioned officer until he retired from the military in 1978. If you recall my two-column series on Marcos, some observers like Lew Gleeck point to 1975 as a turning point in Marcos’ New Society, when the removal of Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor marked the end of the period of reform.

Besides Ileto, another general-turned-ambassador is often mentioned in reports: Manuel Yan, who was sent overseas as an ambassador after he retired and was replaced by Romeo Espino, the chief of staff until 1981. Both Yan and Ileto have been described as belonging to the strict, constitutionalist tradition of our early officer corps, and who were viewed as not pliable enough by Marcos, who preferred to rely on officers from the UP Vanguard, for example.

Whatever reservations or objections Yan and Ileto may have had concerning either martial law or Marcos’ handling of the military didn’t prevent them from accepting diplomatic postings. And this, to my mind, is where the comparisons being made between Ileto and Yano truly gets interesting.

Let’s assume that after 1975, Marcos decided that Ileto was too much of a stickler for propriety to retain at home, and that it would be more politically advantageous to send him abroad to join Yan in representing the country overseas. Let’s assume, further, that the traditional notions of soldierly conduct in which both Yan and Ileto were drilled demanded of them acceptance of their respective ambassadorships, on the principle that if the President of the Philippines gives you an order, your duty is to obey.

Then it’s possible to conclude that on the one hand, what presidents like Marcos feared was that respected officers might become a focus for unfavorable comparisons with the officers he (Marcos) preferred, while the prestige and sense of duty of those inconvenient, old-fashioned soldiers made them useful in obtaining goodwill elsewhere. So, on the whole, it was a perfectly reasonable political solution all around: and one made delicious because it relied on the officers obeying orders to exile them abroad.
The same thing seems to be at work in the cases of Yano and Luna. But what makes both men so inconvenient to the administration at the present time? It’s the respect in which both men are said to be held by most of the officer corps, and the approach both men have taken towards the AFP and its relationship with the commander in chief. On one hand, both men have tried to insulate the military from political interference, while on the other hand trying to dampen down any unrest arising from grievances among enlisted men and the officer corps.

Both, it seem, have been fairly successful at this, and one reason may be that both embarked on a policy of  “strict constructionism,” concerning the military. That is, they wouldn’t tolerate lost commands and rogue liquidation squads targeting the government’s civilian enemies, they would resist using the military for patently partisan political purposes, but also demand of civilian leaders that they stop pushing the envelope as far as the constitutional framework is concerned (meaning: plots to declare a state of emergency or some sort of martial law).

One version of this policy I heard was basically that “there will be no coups so long as the civilian leadership refrains from efforts to unconstitutionally extend its stay in power.” This implies a consensus within the officer corps that it would be better, institutionally, for the military to avoid rocking the boat, and await, instead, a less controversial administration to enter office in 2010.

Yano’s early retirement and his assignment, along with his reportedly more hot-headed (or politically expressive) deputy, Luna, may therefore be more a case of their being willing to fall on their swords, in order to permit at least one more non-controversial chief of staff to sit before the truly controversial Delfin Bangit takes command in time for the elections. It remains to be seen whether in following orders, they will provide any institutional benefits at all or are merely postponing an inevitable resumption of unrest within the ranks.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

13 thoughts on “The Long View: Out of sight, out of mind

  1. “…provide any institutional benefits at all or are merely postponing an inevitable resumption of unrest within the ranks.”

    The operative word is “inevitable”!

  2. I wish more officers like Yano would fill up the high positions in the AFP.

    Bert is right though, the inevitable is just being delayed.

  3. I don’t know what extent is fact and what extent is imagination. In the Marcos era, there was much speculation about Ileto and Yan. It made interesting reading, but nothing came out of it.

    Incidentally, there was also much speculation about another general named Fidel V. Ramos. He was portrayed as a principled West Pointer, a professional soldier who didn’t like the way the military was being politicized by Marcos and Ver, although it wasn’t evident from the way Ramos ate shit from Marcos and Ver for several years.

    Ramos eventually did turn against Marcos, but only after Minister of Defense Enrile and his Ramboys were forced to fight back after they were implicated in a coup attempt.

  4. As glaring as the early retirement from the military service of senior generals to become ambassadors, is the posting of Arroyo hardcore officers of PMA class 78 (which adopted Arroyo)to the top military posts overtaking more senior officers and upperclassmen at the Philippine Military Academy.

    The two notable officers are Prestoza and Bangit. Both are PSG (protection of the First Family) and Intelligence (military assets and movements) chiefs. During critical time of 2010, Prestoza is the Intelligence chief while Bangit will be the AFP chief.

    Early this year, Prestoza handiwork materialized in Dacer-Corbito case by turning Mancao against his boss Sen Lacson a presidential aspirant. It is interesting to watch orchestrations done by the president and her handpicked military generals.

  5. After Christmas of 2008, Mike Arroyo reportedly met with AFP chief Yano and PNP chief Verzosa and asked them categorically if they would defend the President against possible enemies in her push for charter change.

    Yano qualified his answer as “NO, if you are asking to fire at the people”. Verzosa made similar statement.

    It is not hard to see the presidential prerogatives in moving her chess pieces especially drawing close to possible endgame in 2010.

  6. Closing the PMA is good for the country. Let the private sector take over or send the cadets to foreign military schools.

  7. to jhay: read carefully the blog comments in Ellen Tordesillas’ site concerning Yano. You’ll easily conclude that it remains wise to put distance between yourself and anti-GMA’s because there are many more issues than just GMA/2010.

  8. “This latest development on Yano after his replacement was announced by Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro last week brings to mind the unverified information we got that a few days after Christmas 2008.” – Ellen Tordesillas

    When writers start dealing with unverified information, it opens up the story to poetic license.

  9. to jhay. it’s very easy to see which side of the fence you are in. you are on the side of the fence of the Filipino people giving GMA a NEGATIVE 35% approval and popularity ratings.

    it’s very easy to side with the Filipino people, thank goodness!


    “Filipinos are being skinned alive, fried in your own fat and lard!”

    “Ginigisa kayo sa sariling ninyong mantika!”

    A financial analyst of the World Bank would like to inform Filipinos about the money-making scheme of the Pidals, the proceeds from which go to the family’s secret account in Switzerland. He disclosed that all LOTTO DRAWS are orchestrated, and big money goes to the two sons of The Pidal Couple. Recent example is the SUPER LOTTO 6/49 draw, where supposedly two individuals from Luzon won. Do you know WHO these individuals are? The Two PIDAL Sons who else?

  11. You’ll easily conclude that it remains wise to put distance between yourself and anti-GMA’s because there are many more issues than just GMA/2010.

    Sad, but true…as most of you will find out eventually, not everyone who’ll profess selflessness and integrity are genuine…we may have to trust the people to listen to their conscience when the time comes…by “people” I mean everybody, to include politicians from either side (or whatever side), the church (whatever church), businessmen, military officers, etc. Before we plunge the country to the next scenario, it takes a decision…whether the good guys or bad guys win, they all have a conscience…I’m hoping we get pleasantly surprised when the time comes…

  12. Funny, we were talking about Bangit becoming head honcho as early as first quarter of last year…some rumors have a strange way of coming true…next time, we’ll talk about positive things, maybe they’ll materialize also…

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