The exiling of Yano and Luna

The kindest thing one can say of the simultaneous retirement yesterday of Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano and of Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Cardozo Luna – months ahead of their due retirement dates – is that they are being exiled by a corrupt government that feels encumbered by their sturdy professionalism. The unkindest thing one can say is that they have been bought — their professionalism having promptly collapsed in the face of an enticing offer of an ambassadorial appointment.  However one looks at this event, it is a sad day for both the armed forces and the foreign service.

Gen. Yano and Gen. Luna have inspired respect among their own men for quietly insulating themselves and the institution they lead from the exigencies of politics.  Politicians accustomed to buying everyone standing in their way were said to be wary of them.  Their professionalism stood like a solid rock to the liquid pragmatism of unscrupulous power brokers. They could not be cajoled, they could not be coerced, and they could not be corrupted.  Every observer of the military watched how the Arroyo administration would try to neutralize them in order to pave the way for the quick succession of a favored officer, Lt. Gen. Delfin Bangit, who is two years their junior.

Three senior generals — Yano, Luna, and Lt. Gen. Victor Ibrado — all members of the 1976 class of the Philippine Military Academy, formed an unshakeable triumvirate that Malacanang could not penetrate.  For as long as they were united, the line of succession could be protected.  It is the prerogative of the president, of course, to ignore seniority, and risk demoralization in the service.  And this president has done so with impunity in countless branches of the government service. But demoralization in the ranks of the military is something that an unpopular president can ill afford.

And so, fair-haired Malacanang boy Gen. Delfin Bangit of PMA class 1978 has to wait – by tradition, until after PMA classes 1976 and 1977 shall have assumed leadership.  After Yano, Luna was next in line, and then Ibrado.  But, with the early retirement of Yano and Luna, Ibrado now gets to step into the position earlier than scheduled, and to serve a decent term without having to be extended beyond his retirement date in March next year.  Theoretically, someone from class 1977 should succeed Ibrado, but Bangit is already prepositioned to succeed. The important consideration in all this is that a Malacanang general must once more be put at the helm of the AFP before the 2010 national elections.  To make all this possible, Gen. Luna had to forego his turn as AFP Chief of Staff and retire early.  Is his nomination as ambassador to the Netherlands a form of recompense?

My fellow Inquirer columnist, former Ambassador Ramon Farolan, who writes insightful essays on the military establishment, has commented on what he calls “the lameducking” of Gen. Yano as a result of the announcement of his successor well ahead of his retirement.  I now wonder if Yano’s nomination as ambassador to Brunei is a way of compensating him for that injury.

We who have admired Generals Yano and Luna from a distance are hard-pressed not to interpret their actions as opportunism, so costly in a society that is struggling desperately to get its values right. Their decision to retire early and accept ambassadorial appointments is painfully reminiscent of another instance of ethical depreciation in recent memory.  I refer to former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide’s appointment as permanent representative to the United Nations by the same president whose succession to the presidency he helped maneuver as chief justice.

These are breaches of ethical norms.  But they are not as bad as the spiteful abuse of governance principles that mark President Arroyo’s exercise of her prerogatives. There’s one rule in government that politicians must know: you cannot solve the self-inflicted problems of an institution by transferring them to another.  The problems will create even more corrosive consequences in other settings.

This is precisely what is happening at the foreign office.  Long a dumping ground for politically influential misfits in quest of overseas posting, this branch of the civil service has borne the greatest abuse under Ms Arroyo’s presidency.  She has shown no respect for the long and arduous training that is required to produce professional diplomats.  Just because the law allows a president to appoint as ambassadors to some sensitive posts individuals from outside the ranks of career ministers does not mean that the prerogative can be exercised on a whim.  These non-career appointments have to be justified exclusively in terms of the country’s foreign policy requirements.

In this light, Gen. Luna’s defense of his and Gen. Yano’s ambassadorial postings as rewards for their commendable military service betrays an appalling misconception of the whole purpose of government.  Gen Luna was quoted as saying, “I think it’s the prerogative of the President… I think from her point of view, probably, we have done a good job in the armed forces and she wants us to carry on [with] a good job in another field.”  Unless we think we are in a time of war, when foreign policy becomes an extension of a country’s security strategy, rewarding retired generals with ambassadorial positions is difficult to justify. If Generals Yano and Luna wish to continue serving government beyond the age of 56, might I suggest teaching at the Philippine Military Academy or at the National Defense College?

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