THE appointment of Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. as the new Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) came as no surprise. Long before President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made the announcement, Esperon was seen as the most fitting candidate to succeed Gen. Generoso Senga.

There are those who say that Esperon’s edge over the other candidates was that he headed the biggest branch in the AFP, the Philippine Army. Some say he has the track record to carry out the campaign to defeat the communist insurgency, having served in Mindanao for years.

But members of the opposition claim Esperon was chosen for the “instrumental role” he played in ushering Arroyo to victory in the 2004 elections. Esperon was among the four generals mentioned in the “Hello, Garci” tapes, which suggest their possible involvement in the alleged manipulation of election results.

In fact, when Esperon, who served as the AFP deputy chief of staff for operations and deputy commander of Task Force HOPE (Honest, Orderly and Peaceful Elections) in the May 2004 elections, was promoted as Philippine Army chief in August 2005, Arroyo’s critics said he was being “rewarded” for his “service and loyalty.”

Esperon was mentioned at least twice in the Garci recordings. The first instance was on May 28, 2004 when the former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano informed Arroyo that he had worked with the general (and Gen. Roy Kyamko, then Southern Command chief) in relieving Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani, who was being suspected of being sympathetic to the opposition, as head of Task Force Ranao during the elections.

Then, on June 8, 2004, Garcillano was caught talking with a certain Gene, believed to be a political operator, fuming about Gudani’s surprise return to Lanao after being relieved. The former poll official reiterated that he instigated Gudani’s relief with the help of Col. Gominto Pirino of the 5th Infantry Brigade through Esperon and Kyamko. It was Pirino who replaced Gudani as head of Task Force Ranao.

“If General Hermogenes Esperon was involved in the Garci tapes, he has a tough task ahead of him to prove that he is loyal to the Republic and not to the President who appointed him,” Senate minority floor leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said, in a statement following Esperon’s appointment the other day.

Last February, the Commission on Appointments’ defense panel deferred Esperon’s promotion to the rank of lieutenant general. The CA said the military had to clear Esperon first of any involvement in the alleged cheating operations during the election.

When the fact-finding report of Navy chief Vice Admiral Mateo Mayuga was released in April, after it was kept from the public for six months, Esperon was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Esperon, who describes himself ambitious, said he had a “name to protect” and denied any involvement in the alleged cheating. Esperon further said he was willing to face any investigation.

Esperon maintains that he did not get the AFP post as a “favor or payback.” “They must look at my record and where I have come from and what my record tells about my career,” Esperon told the Inquirer.

Pimentel, despite his doubts, also said: “While it is easy to dismiss him as a willing tool of the President, it is better if he is given a chance to prove his worth. After all, man is redeemable. He should have the opportunity to redeem himself within the term of his office.”

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Esperon’s loyalty “to the Republic, the Constitution, and the commander-in-chief” is beyond question. The President, he adds, places a very high premium on loyalty.

Esperon and Senga stood by the President during the February 24 failed coup attempt. Esperon was the one who recommended for the conduct of court martial against the alleged coup plotters, led by Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim.

Esperon also earned the trust and confidence of Arroyo, having served as commander of the Presidential Security Group from 2002 to 2003.

Ermita said it is important that the President choose someone “who could help her” in accomplishing her objectives. Esperon, according to Ermita, “would be in a good position to strengthen and unify the Armed Forces and neutralize forces out to ‘destabilize’ national security.”

Esperon, the Manila Standard reported, is widely credited for having led government troops in capturing several Moro Islamic Liberation Front camps in the Liguasan Marsh Complex. He also headed the Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade in 2000 to 2001, when the government declared an all-out war against MILF rebels in North Cotabato.

A Class ’74 PMA graduate, Esperon started his military career as platoon leader in Basilan and later headed several army units as company commander, battalion commander, and brigade commander in several areas in Mindanao.

The 53-year-old general is also a recipient of several military service medals. Former president Fidel Ramos awarded Esperon the Presidential Merit Medal 1998. The Manila Standard added Esperon also received two Philippine Legion of Honor Medals, nine Distinguished Service Stars, four Gold Crosses, six Bronze crosses, among others.

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3 Responses to ‘Hello, Garci’ general now AFP chief

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Ambuot Saimo

July 15th, 2006 at 3:01 am

ANAK NG JUETINNNNGGGG…….. GARAPALAN NA TALAGA!!!!!!!!!! WHAT’S NEXT? APPOINT GARCI COMELEC CHAIRMAN? ANG KAKAPAL N’YO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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JrFlip

July 15th, 2006 at 4:03 am

Ito na siguro ang pinamababang maaring gawin sa mga Pinoy ng ating gobyerno;to give somebody with clearly questionable if not blemished integrity the highest position in the military. Bale wala ang lahat ng balita (totoo man o hindi) sa kanyang pagkakasangkot sa “Hello Garci” iskandal. Pilit ipinasusubo sa atin ang pagkaing ating isinuka…

The last straw that will break the camel’s back now rests on the Commission on Appt. If this passes this test, you can kiss Filipinos’ last drop of decency, goodbye.

Namputsa, sobra na to.

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jr_lad

July 15th, 2006 at 3:24 pm

kelan pa ba hindi naging garapal etong si gloria? umpisahan natin kay garci. kaya nga nagkaloko-loko ang bansa eh dahil pinilit pa ring ipasok sa comelec (for obvious reason) kahit maraming nagprotesta laban dito. hindi alam ni gloria ang salitang delikadesa… kaya ganito tayo ngayon.

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