Byline: GENERAL HERMOGENES C. ESPERON JR. AFP Chief of Staff, AFP
THE year 2006 will be remembered as one of the most challenging times for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and our country. Our resolve to move forward as a nation anchored on the foundation of democracy was continually strained this year by innumerable trials, both natural and man-made. But never-even for just a second - did we ever think of giving up.
In fact, these difficulties served as crucibles in which our collective fortitude as a nation had only been purified and strengthened. We have proven yet again that crises, instead of extinguishing the human spirit, actually become a cradle where heroes and heroines are born and nurtured.
As with the rest of the nation, the standard of heroism is very much alive in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. And that should not really come as a surprise; because life for people who belong to the profession of arms is one of sacrifice and tribulations. It is a life of bravery and fortitude - not for oneself, but for those whom we have sworn to protect. In other words, heroism - to the men and women of the AFP - is a way of life.
On the auspicious occasion, therefore, I enjoin everyone to celebrate and immortalize the heroism of our soldiers and personnel who - for 71 years now - have been standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the whole nation in the march towards lasting peace and the attainment of a progressive and united republic.
Early this year, we witnessed the wrath of mother nature when tragedy struck the quiet village of Guinsaugon, in Saint Bernard, Southern Leyte. Many lives were lost and livelihoods destroyed in the wake of massive mud slides. But the Filipino's fighting spirit, like stubborn grass, refused to die. Everyone pitched in. Soldiers stood at the forefront of rescue, relief and rehabilitation operations. We attended to the victims, aided in the rehabilitation of affected areas, and did our best to ensure that the remains of our unfortunate kababayans were recovered and given due rites. We, your soldiers, had shown yet again that even in the worst situation imaginable, ang kawal Pilipino ay hindi lamang kadamay sa pagahon ng ating mga kababayan, kundi sandigan din na maaaring pagkunan ng lakas nang sa gayon at makabangong muli.
Barely a week after the calamity in Southern Leyte, a group of misguided officers attempted to undermine our duly constituted authorities in what appeared to be a coup d'etat disguised as an EDSA people power anniversary protest rally. (While there was no loss of lives, there was, admittedly, a loss of face for the AFP; for we thought that the days of adventurism had already been exorcised from the halls of our organization.
We were wrong. But instead of making apologies for it, we have vowed to face it squarely.) Our response has been quick and our firmness to prosecute erring officials has been decisive. We will see to it that the transgressors will be dealt with the full force of the law, as what we are now resolutely doing with the convening of the general court martial to try those who have been implicated in the failed coup plot.
(My predecessors who are present here today had done their part, and I am grateful that the AFP now stands on an even keel because of their efforts to counter moves to divide the armed forces. Now that I am chief of staff, let me clearly stress that breach of military discipline and the chain of command shall never again be tolerated. (Never again shall we allow the AFP to be manipulated or used as a pawn in the partisan game of politics). "No more and never again" during my incumbency.)
On another note, the past year also saw the AFP in the midst of vicious rumors, false stories and black propaganda, on account of our combat successes in the countryside against the communist-terrorist CPP/NPA/NDF, the enemies of peace had been …