New GMA's Appointments: Ebdane to DND, Nachura to SC
By Cecille Suerte Felipe
The Philippine Star 02/01/2007
Manila----Malacañang formally announced yesterday the appointment of former public works chief Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. as the new defense secretary, ignoring recommendations for a civilian to head the sensitive post.
Ebdane, 58, replaces Avelino Cruz, who quit unexpectedly in November, fueling speculation of a rift in President Arroyo’s Cabinet over moves to change the Constitution.
Also at Malacañang yesterday, Chief Justice Reynato Puno announced Mrs. Arroyo’s appointment of Solicitor General Antonio Eduardo Nachura as Supreme Court associate justice.
Ebdane was reportedly the one who brought out of the country former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano at the height of the vote rigging controversy involving Mrs. Arroyo. Ebdane denied the accusations.
Named as officer-in-charge of the Department of Public Works and Highways was Undersecretary Manuel Bonoan.
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said that Ebdane’s experience as a top military and police official qualified him for the task of implementing reforms initiated by Cruz in the defense department and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The 117,000-strong military has been undergoing crucial US-backed reforms to ease restiveness within its ranks, fight corruption and modernize equipment as it fights communist and Muslim insurgents.
Cruz led efforts to reform the military - one of Asia’s weakest - by upgrading training and modernizing war equipment.
"As the President has made known earlier one of the important criteria is the ability to continue what she has started, that is, the Defense Reform program," Bunye said.
"The President has full trust and confidence in Secretary Ebdane, especially because of his prior experience to be able to implement the reforms," he said.
"They are all insinuations. We do not dignify these allegations," Bunye said of allegations that Ebdane was involved in the alleged massive election fraud in 2004.
Ebdane headed the PNP from 2002 to 2004 before he assumed the position of Public Works secretary. He graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1970. He is the first police general to head the DND.
Mrs. Arroyo chose Ebdane despite the recommendations of the Feliciano Commission that investigated a military mutiny in 2003 for Mrs. Arroyo to name a civilian to the top defense post to head off more unrest in the ranks.
"We cannot please everybody. If we try to please everybody, we end up pleasing nobody," Bunye said reacting to criticisms to Ebdane’s appointment.
"The important thing is that he is qualified, competent and has the full trust and confidence of the President," he said.
Ebdane was at Camp Crame for the 16th anniversary celebration of the Philippine National Police when he learned of Malacañang’s announcement. President Arroyo was the event’s guest of honor.
When told that some junior officers had reservations against his appointment, he replied: "Perhaps I have to do some exercise. I can dive with them, jump with them."
He thanked Mrs. Arroyo for choosing him and said there will be no letup in the reforms in the Armed Forces with him at the helm of the Department of Defense.
For his part, Armed Forces chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said Ebdane was the perfect choice for the top DND post.
"(Aside from having) similar names and nicknames, I have worked with him, we went to the intelligence school together. I know his capacity and capability," Esperon said of Ebdane who is also nicknamed "Jun.’’
When asked if he was aware of the reported displeasure of junior officers over Ebdane’s appointment, Esperon said critics should just "wait and see" and "not prejudge him."
AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro said the military had no doubt about Ebdane’s capability to head the DND.
"Throughout the years, the AFP has professionalized itself. The soldiers are always ready to follow the orders of the President," he said.
PNP Deputy Director General Avelino Razon Jr. saw nothing wrong with the appointment, saying the police force was a civilian organization in the first place.
Defense Undersecretary Ernesto Carolina said Ebdane’s military background would help sustain the government’s momentum in its campaign against the New People’s Army and the Abu Sayyaf.
"We have had successes in our campaign against insurgency and terrorism and we need to sustain that," Carolina said.
He said other countries prefer those with military background to serve as defense ministers.
He also dismissed Ebdane’s detractors. "We in the DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have always believed that the President knows what’s best, and in the end, it is her prerogative to appoint anybody to head the department," he said.
"I just hope that he could deliver what is expected of him," he said.
At the House of Representatives, Minority Leader Francis Escudero said Ebdane should carry on with the reforms initiated by his predecessor, including de-politicizing the military.
"This is important, since in three months, the nation will be electing its new set of lawmakers and local officials,’’ Escudero said. "As Secretary Cruz had envisioned, soldiers should not be involved in any way in the electoral process except to vote and to help the police keep the peace in their areas of assignment."
He said Ebdane should respect the agreement Cruz signed with the Armed Forces and the Commission on Elections barring soldiers from election-related duties.
In past elections, soldiers and military vehicles were used to transport ballot boxes containing votes to the counting centers. In areas where counting was disrupted, the canvassing of votes was transferred to military camps.
By shielding the military from politics, Escudero said Ebdane would prove his critics wrong that his transfer to the defense department has something to do with the elections in May.
He said Ebdane should also continue to work for more benefits for soldiers.
"He would not lack allies in Congress, both from the administration and the opposition, in accomplishing that mission," he said.
Majority Leader Prospero Nograles also welcomed Ebdane’s appointment.
"He is a low-key, non-controversial official. But he gets things done," Nograles said.
He said Bonoan, Ebdane’s replacement at the DPWH, was an "equally capable" official.
Meanwhile, the DND finalized 15 "acquisition projects" worth around P7 billion within two months of Mrs. Arroyo’s assumption of the acting defense chief post. Rosulo Manlangit, director of DND’s Office of Public Affairs said Mrs. Arroyo was proud of her achievement, which would pave the way for the AFP’s acquisition of "mission-essential equipment." Other appointments
Bonoan, the most senior career official at the DPWH with over 40 years of service in the agency, vowed to speed up the completion of major infrastructure projects nationwide to keep the government’s poverty alleviation program on track.
"We cannot afford to lose any more time since there are a lot of things in the pipeline. Right now, we must pursue major infrastructure projects as outlined by the President in her Super Regions program that we need to support and implement," he told reporters upon learning of his appointment.
"In my 40 years of experience with the department, I believe I will be able to manage the department fairly well. I have also worked comfortably with most people here through these years," he said.
Nachura’s appointment brings to 11 the total number of Mrs. Arroyo’s appointees to the SC.
"I’m deeply honored by this and I will do my best not to disappoint the Filipino people," Nachura told The STAR.
The retirement of Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban in December left the SC short of one member.
Nachura, a constitutional lawyer and former law professor, was appointed Solicitor General in March last year. Prior to that, he was the chief presidential legal counsel.
As a congressman representing Western Samar, Nachura was a member of the House prosecution panel during the impeachment trial of then President Joseph Estrada in 2000.
Puno said Government Corporate Counsel Agnes Devanadera will be the new solicitor general, but there is no word yet on her successor.
Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Horacio Tolentino will assume command of the Philippine Air Force in formal ceremonies at the Villamor Air Base tomorrow.
Before his new assignment, Tolentino was the commander of the Tactical Operations Command, based at Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base in Lapulapu City.
Tolentino replaces Lt. Gen. Jose Reyes, who is retiring from the military service after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56.
PAF spokesman Maj. Augusto dela Peña told The STAR of the new appointment over the phone. Tolentino belongs to the PMA Class 1974.
A seasoned helicopter pilot, Tolentino was a veteran of the Mindanao campaign during the early 1970s. - with Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Jaime Laude, James Mananghaya, Edu Punay, AP, AFP