Palace lauds Verzosa; Aquino fears he may be retired
By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa Thursday drew praise from Malacañang for his declaration that he would not back any move to keep President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in power if the May elections failed.
Gary Olivar, a deputy spokesperson of Ms Arroyo, sought to put Verzosa’s statement in context and said the latter meant that he “would not support any illegal action or decision by his counterpart in the Armed Forces.”
“And I submit this is the proper attitude, anyway, that should be followed by the AFP and the police—not to follow any illegal orders or commit illegal actions,” Olivar said at a briefing.
On the campaign trail, Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III said he did not trust Ms Arroyo or Lt. Gen. Delfin Bangit to ensure a peaceful transition of power.
Aquino also said that compared to Bangit’s, the career of Verzosa had had its ups and downs.
“If Verzosa will suddenly be booted out or retired early, one has to wonder what the reason is,” he said, adding that the man was not due for retirement until December.
“It’s been a long time since I trusted GMA [based on] what she says … I want to give General Bangit the benefit of the doubt, but it is better that we err on the side of caution,” Aquino said in a press conference at the Surigao City airport.
Aquino said Ms Arroyo had done a “meticulous” job in appointing Bangit and other members of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1978 in key positions in the AFP.
“The President has the right, but she should have done everybody better by [naming as AFP chief of staff] somebody not as closely linked to her. [It would] at least give the appearance of neutrality, given the importance of the transition,” he said.
“It is, I think, gratifying to note that PNP chief Verzosa has once again given us his assurance that he will abide by his duties as a uniformed officer,” Olivar added.
In answer to a question, Verzosa told Philippine Daily Inquirer editors and reporters on Tuesday night that he would not back Bangit, the new AFP chief of staff, should the latter try to install Ms Arroyo as holdover president in the event of a failure of the first automated elections in the country.
He said the 120,000-strong PNP would not back any violation of the Constitution, which mandates a new President after June 30.
But he said there was no reason to suspect that Ms Arroyo, whose term ends on June 30, would use the military to create an artificial power vacuum.
Olivar noted that Bangit himself had said he would not allow himself or the military to be used for partisan politics.
“This is also something that General Bangit himself has promised to do, as required by his own oath as a soldier,” Olivar said.
At the turnover ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday, Bangit said he would faithfully perform his duties and ensure that the military would remain neutral during the elections.
He also said he had not received any illegal orders from Ms Arroyo, which was why he had “so much respect for her.”
The President herself said her administration was committed to ensure a peaceful transition of power.
On Thursday, Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said the Commission on Elections would hold Bangit—the senior aide-de-camp of Ms Arroyo when she was the Vice President and the commander of the Presidential Security Guard in 2003-2007—to his word.
But Larrazabal dismissed rumors that Bangit’s appointment as AFP chief of staff was a prelude to election-rigging, saying these were running rampant because of the election season.
“We in the Comelec are mandated to conduct peaceful elections, and that is what we will do. People will have doubts and the best way to address these is to do our job and do it well,” he said.
Failure of elections
According to Sterling Bank Asia treasurer Roland Avante, foreign analysts were apprehensive that a tainting of election results could create political instability.
He said fears were growing that a failure of elections was a real risk.
Quoting Ms Arroyo’s election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, Olivar said a failure of elections was the inability of voters to fill out ballots arising from, say, a failure to print ballots, or a lack of ballots in a voting precinct.
“Once you have filled out the ballot, the electoral process is completed. That is the heart of it,” Olivar said.
He added: “It is so easy to talk about failure of elections, and yet nobody has bothered to define it.
“If you don’t define something clearly, how can you measure it? And if you can’t measure it, how can you evaluate the risk involved?”
Neric Acosta’s take
According to LP senatorial candidate Neric Acosta, Bangit’s appointment as AFP chief of staff and the recent behavior of the Comelec were worrisome.
“This government is not yielding an inch. There is no guarantee of a peaceful transfer of power, because Ms Arroyo wants to hold on to power for as long as she can,” Acosta said on Wednesday in Bacolod City.
He also said the Comelec’s removal of LP governors—Grace Padaca of Isabela, Ed Panlilio of Pampanga and Joselito Mendoza of Bulacan—did not inspire confidence in its impartiality. With reports from Kristine L. Alave and Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. in Manila; Carla P. Gomez, Inquirer Visayas