#AnimatED: Change is coming? Duterte recycles the old

#AnimatED: Change is coming? Duterte recycles the old
By naming soldiers to civilian posts, Philippine presidents think they are able to tame and temper a politicized military

The quick-fix president favors quick-fix officials.

This seems a rather simplistic view of the recent Cabinet appointments made by President Rodrigo Duterte, but it is also true. Impatient with the slow grind of the bureaucracy, frustrated with orders left unimplemented, aware of his self-imposed and often unrealistic deadlines and promises, Duterte knows that if there’s anyone who’d obey his orders because he said so, it would be the soldier.

Thus it’s no surprise that he handpicked two military generals as replacements for appointees whom he had sacked (Ismael Sueno of the Department of the Interior and Local Government) or who was rejected by the Commission on Appointments (Gina Lopez of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources).

Former Armed Forces chief Roy Cimatu is now the new DENR secretary, while still-to-retire Armed Forces chief Eduardo Año is the incoming DILG secretary.

They join an expanding roster of men in uniform in the Duterte government: National Security Adviser Hermogenes Jr, also a former chief of staff; Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, a retired Army general; Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon, ex-Marine colonel and former coup plotter; National Food Authority chief Jason Aquino, ex-Army major and also another former coup plotter; Land Transit Authority chief Reynaldo Berroya, an Arroyo police general previously sidelined by the Estrada administration over corruption charges; and Metro Rail Transit Line boss Rodolfo Garcia, another Arroyo general.

What criteria did Duterte use in choosing them?

Experience or expertise in the assigned work is obviously not one.

Esperon, a tactical mind and an operations officer through and through, is not known for strategic thinking, which is required of the position he now holds. His main asset is his loyalty, which he’d proven under the Arroyo regime, where he was dragged in the “Hello, Garci” scandal.

Cimatu concedes his lack of experience in the environment and natural resources sector. At a time when climate change is a pressing world problem, the administration chose to appoint someone who has little knowledge of the challenges it poses. 

Cimatu’s main asset, too, is his loyalty, which he’d proven under the Arroyo regime, where he was also at some point linked to the so-called comptroller mafia in the military. 

Año, while known to be competent, will be in uncharted territory at the DILG. A soldier who spent most of his time in the shadows as an intelligence officer will be thrust in a department that has little use for his experience – unless of course the President considers the DILG secretary as the mere supervisor of the national police, which is farthest from the truth.

And don’t even get us started with Faeldon or Aquino – both clearly not qualified for their posts and whose continued presence in government baffles us no end – or Berroya, once sacked for alleged links to kidnap-for-ransom groups.

To be sure, Duterte does not have the monopoly of military appointments in the bureaucracy in the Philippines’ post-Marcos transition to democracy. 

Fidel Ramos had named 100 military men in his government. Arroyo appointed more than 50. 

Through these appointments, Philippine presidents think they are able to tame and temper a politicized military, giving the institution enough space in the power corridors to keep their mutinous tendencies at bay. They also look at military officers as the ones who can – and will – deliver results quickly, no questions asked.

Feeling under siege barely a year into his presidency and racing against time to clean up the bureaucracy, Duterte cannot be faulted for doing the same. 

But we cannot be faulted, too, for reminding him of his promise when he was wooing our vote: change.

Sadly, this is simply more of the same – recycling the old in the guise of doing something new. – Rappler.com

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