(MALAYA) THE Senate committee on national defense and security, peace, unification and reconciliation yesterday recommended at least five amendments to Republic Act 11709 which sets fixed terms for the Armed Forces chief and other key military officials.
Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, panel chairman, said the recommendations were based on Committee Report No. 23 of Senate Bill No. 1849 which seeks amendments to RA 11709 which reportedly caused grumblings in the AFP.
Estrada said the committee report is a consolidation of Senate Bill 1601 which he authored, and Senate Bill 1603 filed by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, taking into consideration House Bill 6517 which was referred to the panel last January 23.
“I, myself, am convinced that RA 11709 is a good law, which sought to institute meaningful reforms and finally resolve the revolving door policy that has hounded the AFP for so many years and severely hampered the long-term planning, stability, and strategic direction of the defense establishment,” Estrada said in a sponsorship speech.
He said the Senate bill is proposing that five provisions of RA 11709 be amended, “which will definitely address and put the so-called ‘grumblings’ to rest.”
The first recommendation is to exclude enlisted personnel from the coverage of RA 11709, to and revert to promotion system and maximum allowable tenure for them, which will be governed by the Department of National Defense (DND).
“This will afford the DND and AFP flexibility in adjusting the policies concerning our enlisted personnel depending on their developing and expanding needs,” he said.
Also, Estrada said the proposed measure reintroduces a one-year period of prohibition for promotions, which was removed by RA 11709. This means that the previous tenure-in-grades of colonels, commander, and brigadier generals, commodores will be reinstituted.
He said the move to reinstitute the one-year prohibition is a result of a consultative meeting between him and junior military officers last February 3.
“Officers may only be eligible for promotion to the rank of brigadier general/commodore or higher if he/she has at least one year remaining in active service before compulsory retirement. This will address a major issue in the implementation of RA 11709 by preventing ‘photo finish’ promotions of generals/flag officers despite having a few months or day left before retiring.”
Estrada said the reimposition of the one-year prohibition would mean that a colonel with a present tenure-in-grade of eight years has only seven years to be promoted to the next rank higher of brigadier general. A brigadier general, with a present tenure-in-grade of three years, has only two years within which to be promoted to major general (two stars).
“Thus, the reversion to their previous tenure-in-grades under RA 8186 (an Act Prescribing Officer Grade Distribution in the AFP) 10 years for colonels and five years for brigadier generals, is in order. This will allow them a fair and equitable opportunity to compete and to be promoted to the next rank,” he added.
Also recommended was to limit the tour of duty to five tenured officers and allow key officers lateral movement to key positions — the AFP chief will still have a maximum tour of duty of three years, while the superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy will still have a fixed term of a maximum of four years.
The terms of the chiefs of the major service commands (Army, Navy, and Air Force) will now be two years, from the previous three years, while all other key positions such as the vice chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, commanders of the unified commands, and the inspector general will be allowed lateral movements “provided that an appointment to a tenured key position will be covered by the one-year prohibition on promotions.”
“This will grant our major generals a fair and equitable opportunity to compete for promotions to key positions, which was indiscriminately and unfairly deprived of them by RA 11709,” Estrada said.
“Moreover, the AFP Board of Generals will not be bound by restrictions, particularly the prohibition on lateral movement, in determining the best qualified candidates to these key positions,” he added.
Estrada recommended the introduction of a graduated age of compulsory retirement for generals and flag officers “to maximize the services of our senior generals but at the same time afford the younger colonels/generals the opportunity for career progression.”
Under the proposed bill, he said, the compulsory retirement age for one-star generals will be 57, for two-star generals at 58, for three-star generals will be 59 “but if the officer is occupying a tenured key positions, the maximum tour of duty will take precedence.”
He said the measure also proposes to reintroduce the percentages on officer grade distribution provided under RA 9188 (an Act Strengthening the Professionalism in the AFP by Increasing the Percentage Distribution of Generals/Flag Officers in the AFP Table of Organization) but the basis will be the AFP Table of Organization.
“Under RA 11709, the Secretary of National Defense is mandated to ensure the decrease in the number of generals/flag officers from 190 to 164 before April 13, 2023. This representation respectfully submits that this significant decrease is not keeping with the demand of the times given the continued modernization of our armed forces,” he said.
“…It will be more prudent, therefore, to reinstitute the percentages provided under RA 9188, particularly the number of generals/flag officers and to give the DND and the AFP leeway in determining their force structure by basing the said percentages of the AFP Table of Organization,” he added.
Estrada said the tour of duty, compulsory retirement age, and maximum tenure-in-grade will be applied to those appointed on July 1, 2022 “onwards” or during the time when RA 11709 took effect as this will “immediately address” the issues, including the bottleneck promotions under RA 11709.
He said the proposed amendments to RA 11709 “remains consistent” with the spirit of the said law anchored on “meritocracy and professionalism” while providing the organization “with the necessary room for flexibility, ensuring stability, and improving the morale in our Armed Forces.”
Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez earlier said grumblings in the ranks are caused by the fixed terms for key officials of the armed forces, which will stall the promotions of junior officers. -Raymund Africa/ Malaya