By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — A new law prescribing fixed terms for the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Chief of Staff and senior officers will cap the key legacies of Sen. Panfilo “Ping” M. Lacson to the military and defense establishment.
Lacson, who chairs the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, pushed last September Senate Bill 2376, which with House Bill 10521 forms the basis of what President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law as Republic Act 11709.
“Finally, we will see an end to the revolving-door policy in the AFP. The leaders of our AFP will have the opportunity to implement their legacy programs instead of staying in office too briefly,” said Lacson, who upon graduating from the Philippine Military Academy in 1971 served in the Philippine Constabulary until 1991.
“The revolving-door policy has always been a disservice to the mandates of the military leadership entrusted with the security and defense of the country,” he added.
Lacson was the principal sponsor and a co-author of the bill, defending its provisions on the floor and ensuring its eventual passage.
Most importantly, he said this will ensure the implementation of merit-based promotion and attrition systems that will assure the AFP of a continuous pool of qualified and effective leaders.
Under RA 11709, the AFP chief of staff, vice chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, heads of the major services (Army, Navy and Air Force), unified command commanders and Inspector General will have a three-year term of office “unless sooner terminated by the President.” The President may extend the AFP Chief of Staff’s tour of duty in times of war or other national emergency declared by Congress.
Also, the law gives the Philippine Military Academy superintendent a tour of duty of four years, “unless sooner terminated by higher authority.”
Meanwhile, the law provides for the compulsory retirement of military personnel at 56 or 30 years’ satisfactory active duty, whichever is later – for those in the grades of Second Lieutenant/Ensign (O-1) to Colonel/Captain (O-6).
For those in the grades of Brigadier General/Commodore (O-7) to Lieutenant General/Vice Admiral (O-9), the retirement age will be 59 or the maximum tenure-in-grade, whichever comes earlier.
Officers or enlisted personnel may avail of optional retirement upon accumulation of at least 20 years’ satisfactory active duty.
The law also provides that officers and enlisted personnel shall be retired one rank higher from the last rank held, provided that retirement benefits shall be based on the permanent grade last held, though this will not apply to those still in active duty prior to the effectivity of the law; and provided that the said retirees will form part of the Reserve Force.
Lacson noted the measure, which strengthens professionalism and continuity of the policies and modernization initiatives of the AFP, stemmed from a long-standing clamor from the military – and should address the issue of stability and continuity of military leadership as some AFP chiefs of staff had terms lasting less than seven months.
In the 15th Congress, Lacson was the principal author and sponsor of Senate Bill 2869, which sought to provide fixed terms for the AFP’s chief of staff and major service commanders – but was vetoed by then President Benigno Aquino III.
Republic Act 11709, which takes effect on July 1, 2022, is not the only legislative legacy of Lacson to the AFP and the Department of National Defense. He also authored RA 10349, the Revised AFP Modernization Program.
Lacson co-authored what is now Joint Resolution No. 1, which authorized the increase in the base pay of military and uniformed personnel (MUPs) in the government, as well as the indexation of their retirement benefits.
He likewise moved for the regular augmentation of the budget of the AFP while serving as Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance and sponsor of the budget of the DND/AFP, amounting to some P39.33 billion in institutional amendments from 2017 to 2021.
Lacson also left a legacy for the defense establishment in dealing with rebel groups by sponsoring concurring resolutions with Presidential Proclamation Nos. 1090, 1091, and 1092 to grant amnesty to over 7,600 prospective applicants who were members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa ng Pilipinas, and Revolutionary Proletarian Army, Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPMP-RPA-ABB); and Executive Order No. 125, for the creation of the National Amnesty Commission. (ai/mtvn)