POSTSCRIPT / November 26, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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How Ver became AFP chief of staff

EVER wondered how Fabian Ver, the trusted bodyguard of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was chosen as armed forces chief of staff in 1981 over other qualified contenders?

The country was then under martial law. After months of evaluation, Marcos short-listed three candidates to replace Gen. Romeo Espino as AFP chief of staff:

  1. Major Gen. Fidel V. Ramos (West Point 50), the chief of the Philippine Constabulary.
  2. Major Gen. Ver (UPROTC 41), commander of the Presidential Security Command.
  3. Brig. Gen. Prospero Olivas (PMA 53), commander of the PC Metrocom.

Before finalizing his choice in August that year, the President decided to interview the candidates. The three generals, without being told why, were summoned to Malacañang.

One by one they were called to the President’s study in alphabetical order.

* * *

OLIVAS was first. He entered, clicked his heels and saluted.

“General, five plus five!” Marcos shot him the test question immediately.

Somewhat taken aback, Olivas — a lawyer, incidentally — must have sensed that that was a trick question. Then he answered, “Ten, Sir!”

“Good! You may go, general.” Marcos said. He wrote in his diary “Olivas — Accurate, but slow.”

Ramos came in next. He saluted his uncle, who promptly threw him the question, “What’s five plus five, general?”

“Ten, sir!” Ramos — incidentally, an engineer — shot back.

“Good! You may go now, general” said Marcos. He wrote in his diary “Ramos — Fast and accurate.”

Ver followed. Locking the door behind him, he stepped closer to the President’s desk.

“General, five plus five!” Marcos asked.

“Ten, sir,” Ver whispered, “Seven for you, three for me….”

“You may go now, general,” Marcos said. He wrote in his diary “Ver — fast and accurate. And LOYAL.”

According to this apocryphal story, Ver’s appointment as AFP chief of staff was announced shortly after those interviews.

* * *

SENIORITY arguably had Ramos ahead of Ver, but seniority was just one of the criteria for appointment to sensitive positions, especially when the appointing authority resorted to that invention they called “deep selection.”

Deep selection sort of allowed the President to reach deeper into the barrel to draw out other officers who may have been buried under other officers who got their star ranks ahead.

Ramos was appointed brigadier general in 1971, while Ver got his second star only the following year. But Ramos’ appointment was ad interim because Congress was not in session and the Commission on Appointments had not yet convened.

When Ver was promoted to brigadier general in 1972, his appointment went straight to the Commission on Appointments (then already convened and functioning) and was confirmed ahead of Ramos.

* * *

A BRILLIANT government lawyer at the time by the name of Estelito Mendoza came up with the novel theory — which Marcos grabbed — that since Ver was confirmed ahead of Ramos, he was senior.

The usual rule was that the date of appointment, regardless of the date of confirmation, determined seniority, but the Mendoza theory was good enough for justifying Ver’s ascension as top military honcho in the Marcos apparatus.

Even at that time, Ramos was one officer mentioned by the opposition, including by then Sen. Ninoy Aquino, with qualified respect. Marcos was not comfortable with him.

But Ramos, a quiet worker fascinated (others say slowed down) by details, had to wait for more favorable political weather to take the AFP top post that he was generally conceded to have deserved more than Ver did.

It was only after Cory Aquino’s assumption to the presidency in 1986 that Ramos finally made it as AFP chief of staff.

* * *

ANOTHER story, similarly apocryphal, may illustrate the point.

The same trio — Olivas, Ramos and Ver — was with the presidential party when Marcos visited the United States.

Marcos was continually putting outstanding senior officers to loyalty checks. The three officers were called, in the usual alphabetical order, to the President’s suite at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.

After Olivas saluted, Ramos told him to leap out the window.

The lawyer-officer, no doubt emboldened by the libertarian air in America, said, “Sir, my oath and my training tell me to take only lawful orders and, therefore….”

“Never mind, you may go now, general,” Marcos cut him short.

Ramos stepped in and saluted.

“General, I want you to jump out the window,” Marcos told him without explanation.

“Sir,” Ramos riposted, “Will you allow me to first call a command conference….”

“Never mind,” Marcos butted in. “You may go.”

Ver entered and saluted.

“General, jump out the window,” Marcos barked.

“Sir, yes, sir,” Ver snapped. “Sir, from what floor, sir?”

“Never mind,” Marcos smiled and nodded. “Stay!”

* * *

AS Marc Anthony said in his oration after the assassination of Julius Caesar, “the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones….”

So let it be with Ver.

The ever-forgiving Filipino normally softens up when a man dies, choosing to gloss over the folly and mistakes of the dead. In taking this forgiving attitude, the Filipino is not really forgetting. He is just being Christian and charitable.

The family and friends of the deceased are advised, however, to heed the cardinal rule not to abuse the forgiving, charitable façade put on by their neighbors.

If they want their beloved Fabian to go in peace, the Ver family must refrain from talking and acting in a manner that may offend the community at this delicate point. A tactless remark or a careless gesture might ruffle the drift of things.

Look at how the unrepentant, arrogant stance of the Marcoses and their clutch of cronies has been getting in the way of attempts at a national reconciliation.

* * *

ERRATUM: Yes, we noticed that gory blooper on Vice President Al Gore in our previous column, but it was too late. Our apologies to the Vice President, our editors and our readers for having said in that column that Mr. Gore misspelled potato when asked by graders to spell the word. It was in fact Vice President Dan Quayle who added a terminal “e” to “potato.”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 11, 1999)

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