Arroyo extends Esperon’s term
Opposition senators: Proves military holds her by the neck
by Joel Guinto
DAVOS, Switzerland (via PLDT) — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has extended for three months Military Chief General Hermogenes Esperon Jr.’s term of service, saying she wanted to sustain the military’s momentum against communist rebels.
At the same time, the President announced that the commanding general of the Philippine Army, Lieutenant General Alexander Yano, would replace Esperon at the end of his extended term on May 9.
Arroyo said the extension was not due to reports of alleged fresh attempts to unseat her, which she laughed off in an interview with reporters at her chalet here late Friday evening (early Saturday morning in Manila).
Arroyo said she wanted to give Esperon, who had been scheduled to retire on February 9, time to focus on the counterinsurgency campaign and did not want to “change horses” at midstream.
One of Arroyo’s most loyal generals, Esperon was implicated in alleged cheating operations that won for her a fresh six-year mandate in the 2004 polls. A military fact-finding board has cleared him of wrongdoing but its full report was never made public.
“There is a momentum in the campaign against the NPA [New People's Army], and we expect this to snowball in the next several months, so its very difficult to suddenly change horses when there’s a momentum that we have to sustain,” she said.
Asked why Yano was chosen to replace Esperon, Arroyo said without elaborating: “For the [same] reasons why he was chosen as head of the PA [Philippine Army].”
The President said she has not chosen who would replace Yano as Army chief. The Army is the biggest branch of service in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The last three chiefs of staff, including Esperon, were Army chiefs before they were appointed as AFP chief.
Arroyo was emphatic when asked if Esperon, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on February 9, lobbied for an extension.
“Oh no, in fact his relatives already from abroad came to Manila to celebrate his turnover, so now they have to go back and come back in three months time. No, no,” she said.
In interviews with reporters this month, Esperon said the strength of the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), was reduced to around 5,000 at the end of 2007.
He said sustained military offensives will reduce the communist insurgents to an “inconsequential level” ahead of the government’s 2010 deadline.
The President said she was “expecting” Esperon to meet the AFP’s targets against the NPA before his extended term expires.
Asked if the extension was due to reported destabilization threats, Arroyo said: “I don’t even know about those reports of destabilization. Tell me more reports. I don’t know.”
The President has extended the term of three of the seven chiefs of staff that she appointed: retired generals Roy Cimatu, Benjamin Defensor, and Efren Abu.
Abu’s term was extended in mid 2005 when wiretapped tapes of Arroyo’s alleged phone conversations with ex-elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano put into question the legitimacy of Arroyo’s win in the 2004 elections and set off the worst political crisis of her presidency.
Esperon was among four generals mentioned in the wiretaps.
The extension will make Esperon, who has headed the AFP since July 2006, the longest-serving military chief under Arroyo.
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