Uphill credibility battle for new AFP chief

DateLine Philippines

The battle for credibility and acceptance continues for newly-appointed Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, Lt. General Delfin Bangit.

Bangit, touted as the “most trusted general” of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, succeeded General Victor Ibrado who retired as AFP chief on March 10 at age 56, the mandatory retirement age for military personnel.

Coming just two months before the holding of the national and local elections, Bangit’s appointment has been the subject of speculation, raising old issues that the Arroyo administration may attempt to hold on to power even after the May polls.

Director General Jesus Versoza, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, said he will not support Bangit in the event that there will be a failure of election and President Arroyo will be installed as holdover president.

Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez Jr., a leading member of the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), echoed the PNP chief’s sentiment.

“Does GMA have plans to stay beyond her legal term? Versoza is right, I hope that he is sincere and be true to his word. I hope that all of them in the police and military are like that,” Iñiguez said in text message.

The Caloocan bishop also reminded the new military chief of staff that he is the servant of the people and God and should not be beholden to one person alone, most especially to politicians with selfish goals.

“Since he (Bangit) is in government service, he is a servant of the public and of God. He should be one and we pray for him and for the country,” Iñiguez said.

The Magdalo, a group of soldiers composed of young officers that staged the short-lived Oakwood mutiny against the Arroyo administration on July 27, 2003, said they will be more vigilant in monitoring the events leading to the May polls now with Bangit is AFP chief.

In a text message, Ashely Acedillo, Magdalo spokesman, added that their group will likewise remain vigilant in the “transition of power from GMA (President Arroyo) to the next President come June 30.”

The Magdalo group on Monday expressed hope that the appointment of Bangit will not see a repeat of the military’s alleged involvement in election cheating during the 2004 presidential polls.

“Everyone is aware of the issues previously raised prior to his (Bangit’s) appointment,” Acedillo said referring to the “Hello Garci” wiretapping scandal that shook the Arroyo administration in 2005.

The scandal held that several senior military officers reportedly connived to alter the result of the May 2004 elections in favor of Arroyo.

“Nevertheless, we are praying that the new chief of staff will appreciate the coming elections and the major role of our soldiers, sailors, and airmen in securing our votes and the votes they cast,” Acedillo said.

An army official, on the other hand, expressed suspicion over the ascendancy of Bangit to the top AFP post.

“His (Bangit’s) appointment is best viewed as a political one, meant for the political survival of the government,” an army colonel said on condition of anonymity.

During his speech at the turnover ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo on Wedensday, the new AFP chief vowed that the military will continue to remain apolitical as the local and national elections drew nearer.

“I am not that kind of commander who will lead our soldiers astray, I will not allow anybody to use me for partisan politics… Sa Diyos lang ako magpapagamit [I will only allow myself to be used by God],” Bangit said in his speech.

The incoming AFP chief also stressed: “I have not received illegal orders from the President. I am sorry if that is not what you wanted to hear, but that is the truth.”

Bangit, the 14th AFP chief of staff under the Arroyo administration. He is a member of the Philippine Military (PMA) Class 78, which had adopted President Arroyo as one of their honorary members.

Bangit had also served as chief of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) for four years, defending the Arroyo government from two munity attempts in 2003 and on 2006, before becoming chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of Philippines (ISAFP).

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