(MANILA STANDARD) The Commission on Appointments (CA) confirmed on Wednesday the ad interim appointment of Gilberto Teodoro Jr. as Secretary of the Department of National Defense (DND).
The CA also confirmed the appointment of 11 generals and senior officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Meanwhile, the controversial provision that requires members to compulsorily contribute in the bill mandating the establishment of a pension fund for soldiers, policemen and other uniformed government personnel has been deleted, according to Albay Rep. Jose Sarte Salceda.
The CA committee on national defense endorsed Teodoro’s appointment, with only opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros questioning him during the hearing.
CA Majority Leader and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte manifested that the contingent from the House of Representatives would not pose any questions about Teodoro’s appointment as they had worked with him when he was still a Tarlac congressman.
Members of the CA likewise acknowledged Teodoro’s experience, leadership, expertise, and dedication to lead the DND and achieve a balance between maintaining internal security and strengthening the external defense of the Philippines.
In throwing his support to Teodoro, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said he believes in Teodoro’s capability.
He also said Teodoro’s intention to protect the interest of Filipinos cannot be questioned.
He noted that Teodoro was not only ‘qualified,’ but ‘over qualified’ so that he gave him his nod.
Senate President pro tempore Loren Legarda cited the need for a qualified and outstanding leader who will not only give security to the country’ territorial integrity and sovereignty, but will also push the interest of Filipinos.
She said Teodoro possesses these qualities so she was confident he can effectively watch the DND.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada considered an “inspired choice” Teodoro’s appointment and he is able to face all the challenges like the issue on territorial dispute, and regional peace particularly in the West Philippine Sea.
During the deliberation on his appointment, Teodoro highlighted his mandate as the head of the DND to further modernize the organization and leverage the country’s security partnerships in promoting the national interests.
“The intensity of the need to focus on protecting our sovereignty and sovereign rights is paramount in the global race for resources and influence,” he said.
“(There is a) need for cognizance of sovereignty and sovereign rights. We need to principally use politics and diplomacy, backed up by a strong backbone of a strategic defense posture.” he added.
Asked about his policy direction as DND chief, Teodoro said he envisioned modernizing not only the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), but also the DND proper and its civilian bureaus to better manage resources and services.
“We need managerial solutions to managerial problems, not military solutions to managerial problems,” he pointed out.
On the issue of reforming the pension system of the military and uniformed personnel (MUP), Teodoro underscored the need to set up a trust fund for the purpose, and gave assurance that the men and women of the AFP are cognizant of the consideration given by Congress for their welfare.
“This is a long process, because this situation has been brewing for a long time. Right now we have to balance the morale and welfare of our Armed Forces,” he said.
In June, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. named Teodoro as the new DND secretary replacing then Defense Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez.
Teodoro was first appointed defense secretary under the administration of then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He was the youngest to hold the position at 43.
In 2010, he ran for President under the banner of the Lakas-Kampi CMD (Christian Muslim Democrats) but was defeated by the late Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III of the Liberal Party.
Teodoro also tried to win a Senate seat in 2022 under the UniTeam of the Marcos-Sara Duterte, but was unsuccessful.
He topped the Bar exams in 1989 after graduating at the top of his class at the University of the Philippines College of Law. He has a bachelor’s degree in Commerce with a major in financial institutions from De La Salle University.
Teodoro obtained a master’s degree in law from Harvard University.
Teodoro said it was an honor to face anew lawmakers and to be confirmed the second time as Defense Secretary.
Teodoro wants to have the discussion regarding the MUP pension reform in a less emotional environment
“My proposal is, let us go very deliberately on pension reform and then when passion subsides, because the atmosphere, the exchanges have been quite emotional… let us cool down passion so that we can really talk numbers in a less volatile environment and not right now where we need each and every one to be at the top of his or her game. That is the appeal,” Teodoro said.
Recognizing the need for fiscal prudence, Teodoro suggested the absolute dissolution of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Retirement and Separation Benefits System through law and transfer its remaining assets to the AFP retirement trust fund, realign the shares of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority for modernization to the said trust fund, and source the seed capital for the retirement trust fund from the land properties of the AFP and the DND.
“The benefit of this is that there is a separate trust fund that can source funds for their retirement that is no longer subject to the financial position totally of the government in the regular GAA (General Appropriations Act),” he explained.
Teodoro also said the AFP retirees were satisfied with the proposals pending before the Lower house.
“Right now, they are in good spirits because Congress listened and they know the support of the House,” he said.
But for the active personnel, the Defense chief warned that they might be recruited by the private sector should their retirement was not secure.
“Our current pensioners are only 138,000 and it will not increase because the AFP is no longer male unlike the police and other services that have a ratio…[per] population…On the other hand, we will be entrusting them with more and more responsibilities and more and more secure capabilities and more expensive capabilities.” Teodoro said.
“So if we don’t also secure their retirement, the private sector is ready, willing, and able to hire them with the special skills they already know,” he added.
Meanwhile, Teodoro said he has no objection to proposals mandating new entrants to pay contributions but if Congress will decide otherwise, it will be “a great help for the soldiers’ morale and welfare.”
“Those are the practical arguments. I will not go into the sentimental arguments which everybody already knows, particularly those of them who have seen their comrades fall, those are highly charged emotional environments,” he said.
In the latest version of the bill on MUP pension reform at the House of Representatives, it no longer includes the provision on mandatory contribution, except for the new military and uniform personnel entrants.
Salceda, chair of the House of Representatives ways and means committee, announced the removal of the provision during plenary deliberations on the bill.
The initial version of the MUP pension reform bill filed by Salceda provides that members in active service will contribute 5 percent of their base and longevity pays during first to third year of the measure’s implementation; seven percent on the fourth to sixth year; and nine percent on the seventh year onward.
Government contribution, meanwhile, was pegged at 16 percent during the first to third year; 14 percent on the fourth to sixth year; and 12 percent on the seventh year onwards.
“The contribution is for new entrants at nine percent,” Salceda stressed.
Salceda said the pension reform bill sets an annual guaranteed salary increase of 3 percent for all MUPs, still with full indexation of pension benefits, instead of the current average of 6.8 percent annual salary increase.
“The only way to cap pension is to cap salary growth. Because if we remove indexation, we might have mass retirement,” he said.
“We have to minimize that risk. With the bill, our fund requirement for MUP pension will be at P178 billion. Without the bill, it would be at P252 billion. We were able to save,” he added.