New Defense Chief to Focus on Reforms in Armed Forces

Article excerpt

MANILA (AP) The new Philippine defense secretary will focus on reforming the military following Julys failed coup and make the quest for peace with insurgents part of the militarys doctrine, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said yesterdday.

Arroyo called on the armed forces, the defense department and the public to give their full support to Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who has been her adviser on the peace process with Muslim separatists and communist rebels.

He replaced Angelo Reyes who resigned last month after the failed July 27 coup by about 300 officers demanding reforms in the military. The mutineers accused Reyes of corruption and masterminding a deadly bombing in the southern Philippines earlier this year to win more US anti-terrorism funding. Reyes has denied the allegations.

Eid Kabalu, spokesman for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebel group, welcomed Ermitas appointment.

Being a man actively involved in the peace process, we expect ... Ermita to pursue vigorously the peace talks with the MILF until we achieve long and lasting peace, Kabalu said Wednesday.

Arroyo said Ermita has three priorities: continue reforms in the military, bring the peace process into the defense doctrine, and modernize the armed forces.

The 116,000-strong military, which has been battling Muslim and communist rebels for three decades, suffers from poor funding, logistical problems and inadequate training. The United States has been providing equipment and training for Filipino soldier that the peace process will be in the way of the usual activities in our security operations against elements in the Philippines that are fighting the government, he said.

Ermita, 68, is a retired general who earlier served as defense undersecretary and briefly as acting defense secretary. He was also a member of the House of Representatives.

Peace adviser

Incoming defense secretary Eduardo Ermita will keep his current position as presidential adviser on the peace process until his replacement has been named.

President Arroyo said Ermita will formally assume the defense portfolio when his successor has settled in.

Arroyo gaveErmita three priorities, namely, sustain the momentum of reforms in the military, bring the peace process into the mainstream of defense doctrine, and push forward the AFP modernization program.

I am confident his impressive government record and vast experience will lead him on, she said.

Early in the day, presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Ermita will remain as chief government peace negotiator with the Muslim separatists.

Ermita was named defense secretary on Tuesday, replacing Angelo Reyes who quit his post after a short-lived coup last July.

Ermita is expected to join the President in her visit to New York where she is scheduled to meet with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad for talks on the peace process in Mindanao.

The retired military general is working for the resumption of the stalled peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) under the auspices of Malaysia. The 12,500- strong MILF has been waging a decades-old separatist rebellion in the south.

In a television interview, Ermita said he plans to rationalize the needs of the department and the needs of national security and rationalize the activities in the peace process.

The President has intensified the house-cleaning efforts in the military particularly in its procurement process and bringing more resources to the ground soldiers following the July 27 military rebellion.

The rebel soldiers complained against alleged corruption in the military and neglect of soldiers in combat. …