There’s more than meets the eye in President Duterte’s surprise appointment of Gen. Eduardo Año, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
Earlier, there were speculations that former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was a serious contender for the top DILG post because of Mr. Duterte’s perceived close relations with the Marcos family. Take note that shortly after Mr. Duterte assumed the presidency, he quickly made good his campaign promise to have the remains of the late president Ferdinand Marcos buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. And in two trips overseas, he included Marcos Jr.’s sister, Ilocos Sur Gov. Imee Marcos, in his official entourage.
The appointment of Marcos Jr. to the DILG would have been a political bonanza for the former senator and losing vice presidential candidate in 2016. Being administrator of the country’s local government units as well as of the Philippine National Police would have given him the national exposure necessary if he decides to make a bid for the presidency in 2022.
But by choosing Año rather than Marcos Jr. or any other person with a political background, the President appears to be indirectly sending the message that he does not want the DILG to be used as a platform for the pursuit of political ambitions.
Because the DILG is at the forefront of the President’s war on drugs, he apparently wants to make sure that its leader has the experience and the cojones to go after drug pushers who will not hesitate to kill if their livelihood is threatened.
Besides, to be effective in going after local government officials suspected of involvement in the illegal drug trade, the DILG head should not be influenced by political ties or aspirations that may affect his or her objectivity. Also, the President cannot risk giving the task of accomplishing one of the major pillars of his administration—the elimination of illegal drugs in the country—to someone who has not held a national administrative position or has no experience in running a huge bureaucracy like the DILG.
The appointment of a veteran military officer to oversee the operations of the PNP may be interpreted as the President’s subliminal expression of disappointment with the state of discipline in the country’s principal law enforcement agency. Note that when he announced the appointment of Año, he made reference to the policemen who were earlier arrested by a special PNP unit for the kidnap for ransom of a couple in Makati. He said he wants Año to restore discipline in the police force.
By entrusting that mission to the traditional “adversary” of the PNP, the President was, in effect, telling PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa that he has not, despite being the country’s top cop for 11 months, been able to cleanse it of undisciplined and corrupt policemen.
Apparently, the President does not think the PNP can do effective housecleaning and has called on an outsider to do the job. That was a virtual slap on the PNP chief’s face.
Año may have to apply some rules of military discipline to the PNP, which for decades was an integral part of the military establishment as the Philippine Constabulary, until it was converted to a civilian organization in 1991.
In times past, the President’s action would have been considered an expression of lack of confidence in the affected party and would have triggered the latter’s immediate resignation from office. Apparently not so for Dela Rosa who, in an effort to put up a brave face, welcomed the idea of taking orders from a soon-to-retire military officer who is expected to institute military-inspired reforms in the PNP.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the President made the right decision to appoint a retired military officer to oversee the operations of a department that is often the only symbol of the government in remote municipalities.
Raul J. Palabrica (email@example.com) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.
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