by Perry Diaz
Esperon’s New Assignment
The recent retirement of Gen. Hermogenes Esperon as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines ((AFP) and subsequent appointment as Presidential Adviser on the peace process in Mindanao has made a lot of people agog in disbelief. In the relatively short time that he served as the head honcho of the armed forces, Esperon has politicized the military by serving the political — and private — agenda of President Gloria Arroyo.
Esperon gained notoriety in the “Hello Garci” election cheating scandal during the 2004 presidential election. At that time he served as the AFP’s Deputy Chief of Staff of Operations and concurrently served as Deputy Commander of Task Force HOPE — “Honest, Orderly, and Peaceful Elections.” Sad to say, the elections were not honest, orderly or peaceful.
In May 2005, Esperon was one four generals mentioned in the “Hello Garci” tapes. In a recorded conversation, former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano told Arroyo that he worked with Esperon and Gen. Roy Kyamko in relieving Gen. Francisco Gudani, the Southern Command chief who was suspected of being friendly to the opposition. In another conversation, Arroyo demanded from Garcillano that she wins by one million votes. Those votes came from Mindanao. In August 2005, Arroyo promoted Esperon as Philippine Army chief. By July 2006, Esperon was promoted to Chief of Staff.
Esperon’s meteoric rise may be attributed to his ability to “serve and protect” President Arroyo. With Esperon at the helm of the military, Arroyo didn’t have to worry about any attempt to depose her. It is no wonder then that when Esperon reached mandatory retirement age on February 9, 2008, Arroyo extended his service for three months, at a crucial time when corruption scandals erupted again. Esperon once again demonstrated his loyalty to Arroyo when he led hundreds of uniformed soldiers locked arm-in-arm with components of the national police in an intimidating public show of force.
A graduate of the Philippine Military Academy class of 1974, Esperon started his military career during the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos. It was a period when the “rules of the game” were unorthodox. A culture of corruption spawned during the formative years of his career. To move ahead, he had to go along. It is no wonder then that he fitted perfectly into Arroyo’s corruption-driven government.
In 2002, Arroyo pulled then Col. Esperon from the war zone and appointed him as Commander of the Presidential Security Guard. For some reason, Arroyo saw in Esperon the perfect Praetorian Guard. And performed well he did. In four short years, Esperon made it to the highest rank, a four-star General.
After the 2004 elections, Arroyo went on the offensive against the communist insurgents. She declared that she’ll wipe out the New People’s Army (NPA) by the end of her term in 2010. Once again, she turned to her fiercely loyal Chief of Staff and ordered him to carry out a plan to eliminate the NPA. Coincidentally, it was during his watch when extrajudicial killings became rampant and caught the attention of the international community including the United Nations. Since Arroyo took over the presidency in 2001, more than 900 leftists, activists, politicians, journalists, priests, and farmers were murdered and another 185 disappeared from the face of the Earth. Many believed that the military had a hand in most of the killings and forced disappearances. One of Esperon’s generals — known as “The Butcher” — was suspected as the head of the military “death squads.”
It is no wonder then that Esperon’s appointment as Presidential Adviser on the peace process in Mindanao has stirred a hornet’s nest and generated protests from various sectors. How can a retired general with a pockmarked career reach out to his erstwhile enemies and expect them to trust and respect him. His critics say that Esperon’s appointment would signal the “militarization of the peace process.”
Last February 2008, it was reported in the news that “National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales proposed two possible ways to defeat the Communist rebellion by 2010: first is to craft a really good local government counter-insurgency strategy, or to extend the term of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.” Aha! Now, we know what Arroyo had in mind.
With the ever loyal Esperon officially employed in the Arroyo government as a “presidential adviser,” he could serve as her “unofficial” direct pipeline — bypassing the Secretary of National Defense — to the armed forces’ top brass; thus, ensuring continued military support of Arroyo including extension of her term by whatever means she could utilize. After all, Arroyo’s goal of defeating the communist insurgency is also the military’s goal. Indeed, that would make them partners.