Senate must tread RA 11709 carefully

The Senate should be careful in crafting amendments to the law that provides a fixed three-year term for top Armed Forces of the Philippines officers to prevent disenchantment in the military ranks, Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile said yesterday.

On 13 April 2021, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Republic Act 11709 which was intended to strengthen the merit system in the AFP and ensure the continuity of its programs and policies. One of its most important provisions was the establishment of fixed terms for its key officers.

Under the law, those who would have fixed three-year terms, unless “terminated sooner by the President,” were the AFP chief of staff, vice chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, commanding generals of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, inspector general and chiefs of unified commands.

The superintendent of the government-run Philippine Military Academy, meanwhile, was given a fixed term of four years, regardless of age.

Now the law has been placed under review as a result of complaints from officers who feared being denied the opportunity to rise in the organization.

In his weekly Bayan ni Juan program, Enrile said the state of military morale may depend on how the amendments to the law are handled.

“You have to be very careful, this is not a joke. I am not threatening anybody but this is a reality that we must accept,” Enrile, who was once Senate president, warned the legislators.

“For me, it would be better if the fixed term is removed. If they want to proceed with it, the fixed term should apply only to the chief of staff so that the chain of succession is maintained.”

“Promotions should be smooth and without a hurdle. The promotion privileges of those at the bottom would be disrupted if there is a fixed term for the highest posts,” Enrile said.

The defense minister in the regime of the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., Enrile added: “Imagine, for three years there would be practically no movement in terms of promotions. The effect would be (felt) from the top to the level of junior officers.”

“So I suggest, or more exactly, I plead to the Senate not to take this lightly. This is a crucial bill that should be studied carefully,” he said.

“I do not claim to be an expert but I will not tinker haphazardly with this issue. You’re dealing with people who are holding firearms for legitimate force,” he added.

Military officials said the law may result in three entire batches of Philippine Military Academy graduates having a hard time climbing up the ladder of promotion.

“They should have studied the implications of the law very carefully. Officers are motivated by the prospect of advancing in rank,” according to Enrile.

“We have several idealistic people in the military and they want to serve their organization well (so) produce an acceptable version of a just and fair retirement law for them,” he said.

The military tenure issue has become very complicated. Under the 1935 Constitution, there was a retirement law that did not allow for such a problem to crop up.

“Transitions were smooth then,” according to Enrile. “It would be best for the senators if the Department of National Defense and military experts are consulted on the proposal.”

“They can consult retired general Antonio Arevalo who is among the experts here,” Enrile said.

The returning AFP chief of staff, Lieutenant General Andres Centino, will serve until February 2023, much longer than his most recent predecessors who were appointed by Duterte.

Retirement age raised
The new measure also raises the compulsory retirement age of military personnel, thereby extending the terms of military officers.

Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. admitted that the reported rumblings in the AFP were the result of “anxiety” created by the possible effects of Republic Act 11709 on the officers’ careers.
“The rumblings were more of a tampo (hurt feelings) by the troops over the law more than anything else,” Galvez said in a statement.

Galvez told a Senate hearing the DND is “listening to the concerns of our men and women in the AFP, who are understandably anxious over the perceived uncertainty in their careers under the new law.”

The DND has proposed amendments to RA 11709 including giving the AFP chief of staff a maximum term of three years; service commanders in the Army, Navy and Air Force, two years, and the PMA superintendent, a four-year tenure.

Meanwhile, the AFP vice chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, unified command commanders, and inspector general would be promoted to a higher position if they still had a year left in active service.
The DND also proposed that no military officer may be promoted to brigadier general or commodore if they had less than six months left in the service.

“The DND’s proposed amendments to RA 11709 aim to further enhance the professionalism and efficiency of the AFP. The issues surrounding the law are being threshed out collaboratively between the DND and the AFP,” Galvez said.

“Despite concerns over RA 11709, the AFP remains faithful to our Constitution, people, and the flag, and our officers and men are continuing to fulfill their mandate of protecting our nation,” Galvez stressed.

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