THE ADVICE, totally unsolicited, for Benigno Aquino III to be “consultative” and to be the President of “everyone including his enemies” sounded odd indeed from a Malacanang bureaucrat who was no doubt speaking on the instructions of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Being everyone’s President, after all, is the last thing Mrs. Arroyo, has been.

But Elena Bautista Horn, the current chief of Arroyo’s Presidential Management Staff, presumed to lecture Aquino on what being President of the country should be like, in belated reaction to Aquino’s saying that he would not retain Gen. Delfin Bangit as AFP Chief of Staff.

Speaking to Malacanang reporters early this week, Horn practically said that Aquino was at fault for expressing his preference for someone else other than Bangit for AFP Chief, and implied that Aquino had put Bangit in the embarrassing situation of having to immediately retire before the mandatory retirement age of 56, which he would reach only next year. By declaring that “Our military deserves our respect, because if not for them we would not have reached this current state,” Horn also suggested that Aquino was being divisive, did not respect either Bangit or the military institution itself, and would not be able to defend his decision not to retain Bangit before the country’s soldiers.

Horn was fomenting disunity by arguing for unity. Her statements were sly, calculated appeals to the vanity and sense of entitlement of a military that, already politicized by the Marcos martial law regime, was even more politicized by Arroyo and her subalterns in the civilian and military bureaucracy during the nine years when she was in power. Horn claimed that the military contributed to making the last elections a success, but forgot how, in 2004, Mrs. Arrroyo used her most loyal generals to “guard her votes.” Horn also conveniently forgot about the military’s illegal campaign in the last elections against certain party list groups and candidates, whom its storm troopers labeled as communist fronts.

In full knowledge of military factionalism and partisanship, Horn was inviting military disaffection with Aquino this early, by shifting the blame for the Bangit issue from Arroyo to Aquino. And yet, Bangit was an Arroyo midnight appointee who accepted an appointment he should have known, and probably did know, could lead either to a crisis or to his own embarrassment. On the other hand, by appointing him on the eve of the campaign period for the 2010 elections, Mrs. Arroyo was not only being generous to a loyal follower, protector and champion. She was also laying the basis for a potential crisis that could either prevent the government after hers from taking over, or which could help overthrow it once it does take over.

The Bangit appointment was in fact the most dangerous part of the game Mrs. Arroyo is still playing despite her supposed departure by the end of the month, and despite all the smiles and lip service to “the peaceful transfer of power” emanating from Malacanang after Mr. Aquino’s proclamation.

The 250 and other midnight appointments Mrs. Arroyo has made may indeed be her way of rewarding her loyal henchmen in the bureaucracy, whether they’re qualified or not. But they are also attempts to prevent her successor from implementing whatever policies he may be putting together. These appointments, as numerous and as spread through the bureaucracy as they are, ranging from ambassadorships to bureau chiefs, from directors of government owned and controlled corporations to the military services, are also potential flashpoints of crisis.

Mr. Aquino could always issue an executive order rescinding the appointments. Obviously, however, those affected could question such an order before the Supreme Court, where, whether by happenstance or design, the present composition of the Court could lead to the legality of the appointments’ being upheld. No one should forget that Mrs. Arroyo made absolutely sure that she could appoint retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s successor, in anticipation not only of the possible filing of cases against her once she steps down from the Presidency, but also, it now turns out, in anticipation of her appointments’ being rescinded by her successor.

To implement his policies, that successor will have to appoint individuals he trusts and who enjoy his confidence that they will implement his policies at their respective levels. Mr. Aquino’s announced policy of putting an end to human rights abuses, for example, can become a reality only if the institutions that by common agreement among international human rights groups and even the US State Department are the leading violators of human rights in the Philippines — the police and the military — are under the authority of a Chief of Staff and a Director General, respectively, who can be relied on to put a stop to, or at least reduce to a minimum, the violations of human rights that so palpably characterized the Arroyo regime.

The same is true of other areas of policy, whether in the economic, political, or cultural realm, in foreign policy or national defense. It is patently impossible for any President to rely on bureaucrats in key agencies who have been appointed by a predecessor whose policies he or she disagrees with. Mr. Aquino obviously thinks that he cannot rely on General Bangit to implement his policies. General Bangit should realize that he has not only Mrs. Arroyo to blame for his predicament, but also himself. Like the Emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, he cannot claim to be clothed in anything which could justify staying on where he’s not wanted. To make it appear that he has, and to mislead everyone into forgetting that it was Mrs. Arroyo who created this mess is not only cynical. It is also grossly and incredibly irresponsible.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *