September 14, 2019
I HAVE been puzzling over the reason or reasons why President Duterte has so much confidence in military officers (retired or active) that he appears ready to delegate command of nearly most top positions in the executive branch to them.
It is equally instructive that some of those whom DU30 has gifted with such lofty and important assignments have failed at the job in a big and costly way.
Many are wondering whether the repeated failures of the President’s appointment of retired military men to the directorship of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) have sufficiently unsettled DU30 that he will now take the time to thoroughly screen nominees before appointing them to high civilian assignments. Will he consider adopting the approach of the congressional Commission on Appointments in selecting prospective appointees in his administration?
The stakes in getting his appointments right are high. This is now the final lap of his presidency.
The fact that our President has a pronounced partiality for former military generals in his appointments is not a sufficient answer to the question why these citizens enjoy such positive discrimination. Ours is still a system of laws and norms, not merely one of presidential preference.
It is right to inquire also into the specific qualities that make such military retirees suitable for appointment to high office.
The only answer that the President has hinted at so far is the importance he attaches to an appointed official’s obedience to his orders in his administration. He said as much in explaining his recent firing of BuCor Director General Nicanor Faeldon (he “disobeyed DU30”). He also suggested that obedience is a factor in why he has so much confidence in former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Roy Cimatu, the current Environment and Natural Resources secretary.
If we inquire in a systematic way into why former military commanders and generals could be suitable for command of civilian posts, we will no doubt find a convincing explanation.
The best explanation that I have found in my research is the proven experience and qualities of generalship, which former military commanders embody and which could be assets in running a government department.
The renowned historian Barbara Tuchman delivered an illuminating address on the subject of generalship before the US Army War College in April 1972, which in my view explains lucidly why former military commanders can contribute so much to civilian posts in government.
In her address, Tuchman said: “The qualities that enter into the exercise of generalship in action have the power, in a very condensed period of time, to determine the life or death of thousands, and sometimes the fate of nations.”
Senior command in battle is the only total human activity because it requires equal exercise of the physical, intellectual and moral faculties at the same time.
In Tuchman’s view, the qualities required of generalship divide themselves into the following categories: a) character, b) personal leadership, and c) professional capacity.
She said: “When it comes to command in the field, the first category is probably more important than the second, although it is useless, of course, if separated from the second, and vice versa.”
‘Do this’ factor
The historian then discusses an essential quality of generalship, which I believe will help explain President Duterte’s high confidence in military commanders. She said: “High on my list of a general’s essentials is what I call the ‘do this’ factor. It is taken from the statement which Shakespeare put in the mouth of Mark Antony: ‘When Cesar says ‘do this,’ it is performed.’
“This quality of command rests not only on the general’s knowledge of tactics, terrain and resources and enemy deployment in a specific situation, but on the degree of faith that his subordinates have in his knowledge.
“If officers and men believe a general knows what he is talking about and what he orders is the right thing to do in the circumstances, they will do it, because most people are relieved to find a superior on whose judgment they can rest.
“That, indeed, is the difference between most people and generals.”
Tuchman proceeds to discuss the category of professional ability, which encompasses the capacity to decide the objective, to plan, to organize, to direct, to draw on experience, to deploy all the knowledge and techniques in which the professional has been trained.
She points to the Middle East Six Day War in 1967 as catching in microcosm, within six days, the qualities of resolution and nerve, the do this factor, the deployment of expert skills, and a governing intelligence, which all meshed and functioned together like a machine.
Finally, she cites “obstinacy in the execution of the mission” as a requirement which the Israelis most emphasized in an officer.
Failure to execute the mission
Duterte’s military appointments that have proved to be failures have not involved former commanders. They were mostly junior grade officers.
They did not have the experience and qualities for command, let alone command of a sprawling bureaucracy.
As we learn more and more about the failures and corruption at BuCor and the national penitentiary, we find here a clear example of former military officers failing to execute the mission that the President handed them at the correctional facility.
Both Faeldon and his predecessor, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, failed to execute their missions when they were appointed as BuCor directors.
Things got messier when Congress passed Republic Act 10592 or the “Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA)” Law, which gave prison officials discretion in facilitating the early release of convicts serving time at the penitentiary based on good conduct credits. The place became a madhouse.
The testimony of BuCor officials that everything was for sale at the bureau is so sweeping, the administration may now have no choice but to take the system and facility apart.
The idea of assigning this mission to a military man is not mistaken.
It does not follow that where a soldier fails, a civilian will necessarily fare better.
What BuCor and the New Bilibid Prison badly need is professional and dedicated management. An able military commander can do the job. So can a professional civilian administrator and manager.
It all comes down to the ability to execute a mission.
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