Bangit is new military chief
‘Emperor’s’ appointment a ‘prize of loyalty’
By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Jocelyn Uy, Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Lt. Gen. Delfin Bangit, a former spy master called the “emperor,” has been named chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a move that drew a guarded welcome from soldiers and alarmed critics.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced to reporters Monday the appointment of Bangit, who headed the Presidential Security Group (PSG) during three coup attempts against her administration.
The Army chief will take over from Gen. Victor Ibrado in ceremonies at Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday, when Ibrado turns 56, the mandatory retirement age in the 120,000-strong AFP.
A member of Philippine Military Academy “Makatarungan” Class of 1978 that adopted Ms Arroyo as honorary member, Bangit will serve for one year and five months before he himself retires.
“I would like to assure the people that I will do my very best to serve the interest of this nation and the Filipino people,” Bangit said in a brief statement.
Bangit came under fire for throwing a lavish Christmas party in 2006 while he was head of the Intelligence Service of the AFP and used the code name “emperor.” During the celebration, Bangit’s men chanted “Long live the emperor” as he threw peso bills at the merrymakers.
The appointment of Bangit, senior aide-de-camp of Ms Arroyo when she was vice president, was described by detained Marine Col. Ariel Querubin as the “prize of loyalty.”
“Any president would have done the same,” said Querubin, charged in connection with the February 2006 coup attempt. “I wish him good luck.”
A group of soldiers calling themselves the “Magdalo” that staged coup attempts in 2003 and 2007 said it hoped that Bangit would help ensure credible elections in May.
“Everyone is aware of the issues previously raised prior to this appointment,” said Magdalo spokesperson Ashley Acedillo, a candidate for Cebu congressman.
“We are praying that the new chief of staff appreciates that the coming elections and the major role of the soldiers in securing our votes will be a lasting legacy for him,” he said.
In a statement, Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III said that “many groups are [concerned] that the neutrality of the AFP in the coming elections is severely at risk with someone as fiercely loyal to the President as (Bangit) now at the helm of the AFP.”
Aquino hoped that Bangit “will rise beyond utang na loob (debt of gratitude) and perform his constitutional duty” to ensure a fair and peaceful election.
Aquino’s running mate, Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, told reporters Bangit’s appointment was alarming.
“A lot of senior officers were bypassed by this class and officers from this class control almost all of the major service commands. We have to be alert that any sinister plan of this government will not prosper,” said Roxas.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, the LP campaign manager, challenged Bangit to prove his loyalty to the Constitution rather than the one who appointed him.
“All eyes are on him and we expect him as a professional soldier not to allow the AFP to be a tool to prop a very unpopular administration through unconstitutional and illegal means,” said Pangilinan.
“His appointment does not bode well for the morale of the AFP rank and file and it raises the specter of an electoral fraud,” said Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo.
He noted that Ms Arroyo was seeking a congressional seat and was eyeing the House speakership. He added that Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales was pushing for a greater role of the AFP in the May elections.
“He gets appointed either to serve the national interest or Gloria’s interest—that remains to be seen by his performance, especially during this election period which is very crucial for the interest of the people,” said Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. in a phone interview.
Fears of ‘Hello Garci’
Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, a former AFP chief of staff, said that the people feared Bangit because of the “track record of the President in her disregard for institutions and institutional processes to protect her political interests.”
“Because of the non-resolution of the ‘Hello Garci’ controversy, there is in the minds of the people that Bangit can be again used to defeat the election process,” he said in a phone interview, referring to claims Ms Arroyo stole the 2004 election, a charge she has denied.
“Given his closeness to President Arroyo, he must prove himself to our people and must be above suspicion,” Sen. Francis Escudero said in a text message.
Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., AFP spokesperson, appealed to critics to give Bangit a chance.
Ibrado said he was confident that Bangit would do a “good job.”
“He is very professional,” said Ibrado. He dismissed insinuations that Bangit would be used to manipulate the elections as “unfair.”