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Sowing dragon’s teeth

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CEBU CITY–Even emperors must shimmy down from limbs they clamber on. Thus, Gen Delfin Bangit — dubbed as “Emperor of the Intelligence Service” — didn’t wait to be canned when Benigno Aquino III becomes president. He quit.

But first, he balked. He’d stay on as Armed Forces chief of staff until July 2011. Why? President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stipulated that he serve until turning 56, the mandatory retirement age. The “Emperor’s” term would overrun by 11 months Arroyo’s own departure from Malacanang noon of June 30.

In so doing, Arroyo stomped on the incoming President’s prerogatives.

Aquino would have none of it. “I’ll appoint my own chief of staff,” he declared.

This was only the latest appointment that Arroyo tried to corral at quarter-of- midnight. She appointed scores to the judiciary, Pagcor, government corporations, even Luneta Park. Her spokesmen shoveled unsolicited advice : from Aquino taking his oath before the Arroyo’s Supreme Court’s chief justice to retaining midnight appointees.

Bangit morphed willy-nilly into a high-profile exhibit of Arroyo “sowing the dragon’s teeth”. The phrase means systematic fomenting of disputes. In Greek mythology, Jason sowed teeth of the dragon slain at the spring of Arbes. And from them rose warriors to do battle for Jason.

Arroyo’s “dragon teeth” stud the bureaucracy — until pulled. “The right to appoint carries with it the right to dismiss,” Aquino’s spokesman says. Who will fight for Arroyo and family in tomorrow’s brawls?

Not Bangit. “The Chief of Staff serves at the pleasure of the President,” his spokesman said. Bangit started farewell visits, beginning with the 2nd Infantry Division in Rizal. Paalam, Adios. Sayonara. Arrivederci. Auf weidersehen.

How to Say Goodbye with Class” is not part of PMA’s curriculum. But The Art of War by Sun Tzu is: “The general who advances without coveting fame, and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good for sovereign is the jewel of the kingdom,”wrote this Chinese sage (500-320 BC).

That axiom reflects realities here. Aquino has the clout. He won the elections by a landslide. Asean, the European Union, the US, and most countries recognize his mandate

More basic, Filipinos resisted calls for extra- constitutional measures like coups. That strengthens constitutional values such as civilian control over the military.

Issues of legitimacy dogged Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, in contrast. For almost a decade, she buttressed her shaky position by coddling warlords, as in Maguindanao, and officers loyal to her. Often, that meant shunting aside qualified officers

It underscores a pernicious legacy of the Marcos dictatorship, the withering of professionalism in soldiers.

“President Quezon established a corps of professional officers…to deny control of the nation’s arsenals, whether to nationalist lawyers from UP, or corporate executives from Ateneo,” notes Closer than Brothers (Yale University).

Among 85 graduates of PMA Class’71, five morphed into torturers, and six were murdered, writes Prof. Alfred McCoy. Gringo Honasan mounted seven coups against Corazon Aquino — “a world record of failures”. Panfilo Lacson is a fugitive.

“They were the ultimate creatures of martial law…Mindanao bonded and brutalized these young officers, and they became the fist of the Marcos dictatorship.”

Decades later, politicized officers succeeded where mutinous officers flopped, Glenda Gloria wrote in We were Soldiers: Military Men in Politics and the Bureaucracy. They seized power “by getting appointed to important civilian posts and winning elections.”

“The military is a product of its own environment, even a reflection of it,” adds Gloria (who co-authored The Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao).

Appointment of officers in civilian posts is reflective of the rent-seeking character.

Many of us share Bangit’s failure to head the old parable: “Whenever you’re invited… do not choose the best seat,” the Galilean counseled. “It may happen that someone more important than you has been invited. And your host will say: ‘Please give him your place’. What a shame is yours when you go to the lowest seat.

Look at Vice-President-elect Jejomar Binay. He’s pressing to be named as Interior & Local Government secretary. That’s the “first and only choice”, insists Binay’s spokesman. Binay is sharper than the President-elect, his team brags. They shrug off unresolved sleaze charges as “non-remittance of withholding taxes of Makati government employees to the BIR”.

Congressman-elect Tomas arm-twisting. “People admire my talents,” he says without blushing. He’d want to take over the National Economic Development Authority.

Osmeña also wants Aquino to name one of his councilors, Nestor Archival, as Environment & Natural Resources secretary. Both come from the most ecologically-stressed of 136 cities, Cebu Daily News notes.

Aquino is swamped by people who “seek the first places at table”.

When invited, “go to the lowest seat,” the Galilean will come and say to you: ‘Friend, go up higher.’ And this will be a great honor for you…For whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

The new President must yank out the “dragon’s teeth” while selecting those who, as Sun Tzu taught, “advance without coveting fame, retreat without fearing disgrace… whose only thought is to protect his country and do good for sovereign”.

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