The “irrevocable resignation” of lawyer Avelino Cruz as Secretary of Defense has been attributed to intra-cabinet bickering over the failure of the “People’s Initiative” to pass muster at the Supreme Court.

Malacanang apparently did not expect the 8-7 vote last October. Much less did it expect the majority’s description of the “PI” (which some uncharitable souls use with the full knowledge that “PI” is also shorthand for a common Filipino expletive) as “a deception” and “a gigantic fraud on the people.”

The decision was after all written by Associate Justice Antonio Carpio. In addition to being an Arroyo appointee, Carpio was also a founder of what is now the law firm Villaraza and Angangco, also known as “The Firm” for its closeness to Mrs. Arroyo. Cruz was a partner in “The Firm,” and apparently her loyalists expected Cruz to convince Carpio to vote in favor of the Malacanang-driven “PI”.

Cruz later validated what had previously been mere rumors. Last week he confirmed the existence of infighting in the Cabinet, said that three of his colleagues in it wanted him out, and disclosed that they were looking for a scapegoat, meaning him, for the trashing of the “PI”.

Cruz had not concealed his opposition to the “PI”, and even to the convening of Congress as a constituent assembly. He apparently believes that any amendments to the Constitution should be through a Constitutional Convention, a view he shares with the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, with which he is said to have close ties.

Cruz had differed with his colleagues on other issues. Although he didn’t show it, he was apparently displeased by Raul Gonzalez’ statement last June that civilian casualties are inevitable in defeating insurgency. The armed forces, he said, “need to have discipline to avoid collateral damage.”

He disagreed with Mrs. Arroyo’s claim, also last June, that the 37-year old guerilla war being waged by the New People’s Army could be defeated within two years. Although two years would be enough to “dramatically reduce” NPA forces in the “critical areas” of Central Luzon, Southern Luzon and Sorsogon province, Cruz said it would take six to ten years to completely defeat the NPA.

As defense chief a member of the powerful Cabinet security cluster, Cruz, according to Senator Franklin Drilon, also opposed the declaration of martial law last February, probably in the belief that such a declaration would unite everyone against the Arroyo regime and hasten its downfall.

From these instances, one might conclude that Cruz’ differences with his former colleagues in the Cabinet cannot be dismissed as mere personality clashes. Could these differences have been over loyalty to Mrs. Arroyo? Raul Gonzalez, undoubtedly one of the most loyal among Mrs. Arroyo’s men, has described Cruz as someone he “couldn’t read.” Gonzalez, one of the first to blame “The Firm” for the Supreme Court decision on the “PI,” said last Sunday in the wake of Cruz’ resignation that “I didn’t know where his loyalties lay.”

The answer to that question could explain Cruz’ sudden resignation. The little that’s been reported about Cruz–he was among the few Cabinet secretaries who deliberately kept a low profile–suggest that he’s more of a technocrat than a political operator, and that his view is more strategic than, say, that of Raul Gonzalez. That would make his loyalty to anyone who happens to be in Malacanang secondary to his loyalty to the preservation of the political, economic and social system the AFP-DND is tasked with.

It doesn’t mean he doesn’t share the tactical goals of the Arroyo regime, among them defeating the CPP-NPA, but that he may disagree with some of the means and approaches its various officials and agencies are using. As a crucial member of the Cabinet security cluster, it may be assumed that he shares responsibility for the regime’s security and anti-insurgency policies, and may even have been their prime mover.

Cruz regarded as among his most crucial tasks as defense chief the implementation of the Philippine Defense Reform. PDR is a 15-year integrated plan that would achieve its tasks of modernizing and professionalizing the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense by focusing on ten major areas of reform, of course to make the AFP-DND more effective in addressing insurgencies and “other security threats”.

This was a task to which he apparently addressed himself with enthusiasm, probably in the awareness that AFP-DND reform is a crucial element in the regime goal of defeating the NPA.

The fatal flaws of a regime driven primarily by political expediency–for example assuring Mrs. Arroyo’s continuing occupancy of Malacanang until and even beyond 2010, and the political maneuvers this requires–are at odds with what seemed to be Cruz’ technocratic and more strategic viewpoint. One possibility is that this conflict had finally been acknowledged and recognized by both Cruz and Mrs. Arroyo in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on the “PI”.

Cruz’ terse, 22-word resignation last Sunday speaks volumes. Apparently he’s parting from his boss of three years with hardly any love lost between them. Equally apparent, however, is that the resignation will be to Malacanang’s loss. No president with the problems Mrs. Arroyo already has can afford to lose this much face at this time, given Cruz’ credibility relative to such totally political creatures as Raul Gonzalez.

(Business Mirror)

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.

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