'Congress must elect a caretaker president'

‘Congress must elect a caretaker president’
By Henry Omaga-Diaz

MANILA, Philippines – Congress should convene and elect a “caretaker President” before June 30 as a safeguard against a military take-over if the May 10 elections fail, Sen. Rodolfo Biazon told ABS-CBN News in an exclusive interview.

Biazon was reacting to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s assertion recently that the military may take over the realms of government if there is failure of elections. Enrile qualified though that he did not think the automated polls will fail. (Read: Military should take over if polls fail – Enrile)

But Biazon, who is a former general and the newly-elected chairman of the board of the influential Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association (PMAAA), said he thinks a military take-over is possible because of the power vacuum a failed election will create.

“But first, we have to be clear: how do we define a failure of election? What are its parameters? When do we say that, indeed, an election failed?” Biazon told ABS-CBN News. “Then let us have the safeguards. That’s why I am filing a resolution for the Congress to have a special session to address this possible power vacuum before June 30.”

The former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief added that Congress should choose among the 12 senators, whose terms will expire in 2013, who will be the caretaker president whose primary duty is to supervise an election in six months.

Succession crisis

Legal experts have also raised alarm recently over a possible “succession crisis” if no presidential candidate is proclaimed winner by June 30 when the terms of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro expire. Aside from Arroyo and de Castro, the Senate president and the House speaker are running either for another term or another elective position, and the Chief Justice is retiring on May 17, a week after the elections.

This is why Enrile has said that is the duty of the military and the police to ensure that peace and order will be maintained–in a situation where there is no head of state–by temporarily taking over the government and preparing for a new election.

Importance of next chief of staff

And this is why the choice of who will replace retiring Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado is very crucial.

Ibrado is mandated to retire on March 10, his 56th birthday.

Biazon wants Ibrado’s term extended until June 30.

Ret. Gen. Fortunato Abat also told ABS-CBN News that usually, all the lieutenant generals who hold 3–star rank, and the major generals who hold 2-star rank, are candidates for the top military post.

Among them are:

– Lt. Gen. Rodrigo Maclang, the current AFP deputy chief of staff;
– Lt. Gen Delfin Bangit former Presidential Security Guard (PSG) chief and current Army chief;
– Air Force chief Lt. Gen Oscar Rabena;
– Navy chief Vice Adm. Ferdinand Golez;
– Vice Adm. Leonardo Calderon, Philippine Military Academy (PMA) superintendent;
– Lt. Gen. Roland Detabali; and,
– Eastern Mindanao Command chief Maj. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer.

Arroyo’s PMA Class ‘78

But Abat believes Bangit is the strongest candidate for the top post because he is very close to President Arroyo, having been with her since she was the vice president.

Bangit belongs to PMA Class ‘78, where President Arroyo is an honorary member.

Ferrer is a member of PMA Class ‘77 but has been a perennial candidate for the top post since the selection of two AFP chiefs ago.

But political analysts and former generals believe that the next Chief of Staff will come from PMA Class 78.

Even former President Fidel Ramos warned as early as last year that Mrs. Arroyo may use PMA Class 78 for her own political plans and protection.

Under Arroyo’s presidency, members of PMA Class 78 have been placed in critical military positions.

Aside from Bangit, Rabena and Detabale, Maj. Gen. Romeo Prestoza is the present chief of Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP), Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban commands the Philippine Marine Corps, Lt. Gen. Ralph Villanueva is the AFP Central Command chief based in Cebu and Maj. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu is the AFP-National Capital Region Command chief.

Detabali, who is PMA Class 78 president, defended the appointment of members of his batch to plum military positions, in an interview with ABS-CBN News. He maintained that they have a good track record as AFP officers.

But he also admitted that being close to the President is an advantage, but only because they have earned her confidence from their performance, Detabali said.

“It’s not only us. [PMA] Class 76 produced 2 [AFP] chiefs of staff and a PNP [Philippine National Police] chief,” Detabali said, referring to Ibrado, Gen. Alexander Yano and [Director-General Jesus] Versoza.

“Class 77 also has its own candidate for the chief of staff,” said Ferrer for the side of his PMA class. Ferrer was the administrator of martial law in Maguindanao.

Considering the military take-over scenario, Biazon and Abat said that whoever will be the next military chief will play a crucial role in the shaping of the country’s date with history.

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.