Thursday, April 22, 2010


We sure wished our old friend, recently promoted Navy Commodore Roland Recomono was here. He served for awhile as naval attaché in the Philippine Embassy here. He now heads the AFP Modernization Program Management Office in Camp Aguinaldo.

Rex's part of PMA Class 79 which, gauging from their numbers, appear to be next “ruling class” in the Philippine military – that is if Class 78 doesn’t spoil it by throwing the nation in a tailspin if, God forbid, the conduct of May polls deteriorates into another political crisis.

The controversy over PMA “Makatarungan” Class 78 stems from its closeness with President Arroyo, who’s widely suspected to be engineering ways to hold on to power after her term ends in June.

We have seen some old friends from that class, officers we met when they were lieutenants or captains, rise to become generals and admirals today.

Most are men of great courage, competence and integrity. But somehow those values were warped by the machinations of their adopted “mistah” (Arroyo) and her desire to win the military’s loyalty by all means fair and foul.

President Arroyo’s affinity with Class 78 began in earnest during the “Edsa Dos” upheaval that kicked President Estrada out of Malacanang behind a military-backed bloodless putsch.

In the heat of political passions at the time, she may have sniffed the scent of vulnerability that most young, ambitious officers seem to emit.

During the 2004 campaign cycle, one Class 78 officer (now a general posted in Camp Aguinaldo) mocked the candidacy of movie icon Fernando Poe Jr. “You don’t think we will allow another actor to win,” he told me, “the country can not afford another mistake”.

Within military circles, Class 78 has earned the reputation as “GMA’s shock troopers”.

By the time 2004 elections came around, President Arroyo had become even more dependent on officers from Class 78 – especially when charges of electoral fraud and corruption fueled discontent in the ranks. That restiveness spilled over to a couple of bizarre mutinies that were quickly quelled.

Armed Forces chief General Delfin Bangit belongs to Class 78, and so too Army chief Lt. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu; Airforce chief Lt. Gen. Oscar Rabena; Marines Corps chief Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban; Southern Luzon Command chief Maj. Gen. Roland Detabali;

National Capital Region Command chief Commodore Feliciano Angue; Central Command chief Lt. Gen. Ralph Villanueva; AFP Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Romeo Prestoza (another DC alumni); Army field commanders Maj. Gen. Mario Chan (4th Division) and Romel Gomez (5th Division); deputy division commander Brig. Gen. Restituto Aguilar (7th Division).

We’re no expert on strategy, but that’s quite an impressive deployment if you want to control the country’s two main power centers – Metro Manila and Metro Cebu – and by extension, the whole country.

Class 78 generals dominate the command and control, or main operating forces for Luzon (SOLCOM, NCRCOM, 7th and 5th Infantry Divisions, Marines); Visayas (CENTCOM); and Mindanao (4th Infantry Division, Marines).

This ensures a unity of command higher than the usual “chain of command”. Forces can be put in play with little or no resistance. The troops are ready, waiting for the orders. Only question now – one that we all should be concerned about – what are the orders?

A round of the popular board game “Game of the Generals” couldn’t have been played better.

We wonder what our old friend Rex Recomono will say about that?

Kristine Servando wrote in that Class 78 generals have total or partial control of 17 Joint Security Control Centers (JSCCs) organized by Task Force Hope (for “Honest, Orderly, Peaceful Elections). They are supposed to be deputized by the Commission on Elections.

The alarm being sounded against Class 78 is nothing new. It merely resurrects the old debate over wisdom of the primacy of PMA graduates over the bulk of the AFP Officer Corps, who happen not to have graduated from the PMA.

This has bred a culture of exclusivity and elitism that have been blamed for past coup attempts, the reign of “militics” (for military politics), and biased dispensation of career opportunities and promotions in the AFP.

But it would be a mistake to think that these PMA “Classes” are monolithic. The rivalry within and between PMA batches are sometimes intense, but in the end they all yield to the greater calling of the Academy’s credo of “Courage, Integrity, Loyalty”.

Ultimately, because they are trained not to trust anyone except their “mistahs”, political leaders have learned to be wary of them.

The late despot Ferdinand Marcos did not trust them – and it turns out, for good reason. Former President Corazon Aquino was hounded by the PMA alumni-dominated Reform the AFP Movement and Young Officers Union. During his final days, President Estrada was betrayed by his own PMA generals.

This merely raised the ante for politicians to cement the loyalty of PMA officers, and because the so-called depoliticization of the military after 1986 is largely a sham, that quickly became a two-way street as ambitious, young officers tried to ensure their future by cementing the patronage of well-placed politicians and business leaders.

And that is why presidential candidate Manny Villar Jr. is an adopted “mistah” of PMA Class 77, who've been overshadowed by their lower classmen.

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