POSTSCRIPT / August 27, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Letter ‘s’ gives Erap, aides a little trouble

THE Philippine Constitution mandates that “civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military.” (Section 3, Article II — Declaration of Principles and State Policies).

On top of the armed forces is the President, who remains a civilian although exercising commander-in-chief functions. That he may happen to be a retired general, as in the case of former President Ramos, is incidental and irrelevant to his being the chief.

Organizationally, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is just one of the many bureaus under and reporting to the Defense Secretary, a civilian and an alter ego of the President, also a civilian.

That hierarchical relationship of civilian authority sitting atop the military is crystal clear to all men of rational minds and pure hearts. That is how it has been and ever shall be.

* * *

BUT when the armed forces participated recently in a joint war exercise with United States forces in the high seas west of Zambales, they did not even bother to inform (much less get the permission of) President Estrada. Neither was Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado consulted or informed.

Some generals in the armed forces are either playing dumb or playing tricks.

For such brazen insubordination and serious breach of the chain of command, the AFP chief of staff no less should have been sacked together with some other generals.

Is Mr. Estrada, a movie actor still groping for a firm handle on the presidency, afraid to antagonize the military at this early stage of his term?

Is the military demonstrating once more its known loathing for Mercado, a former youth activist who was detained by the military for unspecified charges when martial law was imposed in 1972? Is the feeling mutual?

* * *

THE blood was still fresh on the wound when Mercado sent his staff days ago to investigate alleged irregularities in the management of the multi-billion-peso AFP pension fund. They were not allowed to look into the records.

Mercado wanted to check widespread reports that the gargantuan fund intended to benefit ordinary soldiers had become a milking cow of some top brass.

Audited financial statements of the AFP Retirement Separation and Benefit System (AFP-RSBS) allegedly showed that its net income has dropped from P1.5 billion to P164.3 million in one year.

Miffed over the refusal of RSBS officers to furnish documents, Mercado berated Lt. Gen. Ismael Villareal, AFP vice chief of staff and acting RSBS president, in a later meeting with generals.

Villareal and some fellow officers, some of them retired, hit back at the defense chief for what they said was his cavalier attitude and arrogance.

Mercado said he had hit a raw nerve when he zeroed in on the fund mess. He said a military psy-war was being waged against him to thwart the investigation. But he added that the stars on the shoulders of the generals did not intimidate him.

* * *

UNHEARD from amid the pitch battle in the media and board rooms is the poor enlisted man who is forced to contribute from his measly wage to the multi-billion-peso fund. While his superiors are quarreling over his money, he is out there laying his life on the line fighting rebels and assorted criminals.

How will Mr. Estrada, who supports the investigation, stop the dangerous drift of the unprecedented war between his defense minister and the military brass? Can the crack be ever healed?

And who will now watch the RSBS offices 24 hours every day to make sure no fire from some “faulty electrical wiring” breaks out and destroys vital documents?

* * *

ANOTHER war had erupted in the Cabinet, this time between his spokesman Jerry (often misspelled by the Inquirer as Gerry) Barican and presidential legal adviser Harriet Demetriou.

Over what? The curly little letter “s.”

Barican told the press that legal advisers of the President had opined that the way was now clear for bodily removing dismissed chairman Richard Gordon of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Administration.

Demetriou, she with mercurial temper, fired off a statement denying Barican. She stressed that as legal adviser, she had told the President the opposite, that Malacañang should not use force and instead wait for the Supreme Court to rule on the question.

It turned out she got the wrong transcript on Barican. While the presidential spokesman was talking of the consensus of legal advisers (plural), the lady thought Barican was referring to her because the transcript cited only an adviser (singular).

Whatever it was, she should have talked privately to Barican instead of going to town with an angry press statement.

Apparently, as far as she knew, she was the one and only legal adviser of the President. Was that what Mr. Estrada whispered to her ears when he convinced her to work under him?

Barican and Demetriou, both still blessedly single, had kissed and made up. Literally. He sent her a peace offering of six peach tulips, while she gave him a prized three-foot-tall Fatima statue from her collection.

Palace kibitzers said they should see more of each other. Uuuy….

* * *

PRESIDENT Estrada himself recalls having gotten into trouble with the same letter “s.”

“Mahirap dito pag nagkulang ka ng ‘s,’ delikado ka na… Kamukha noong nag-speech ako sa Asean foreign ministers, sumobra naman ako ng ‘s,’ nalagay pa tayo sa diaryo, front page pa!” he related to reporters. (You could get into trouble by missing your “s”… like that time I spoke before Asean ministers. I added an extra “s” to a word and I landed on the front page!)

Our Erap was recalling his having pronounced the “s” in “debris.”

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