Fall of the ‘Emperor’

by Perry Diaz

June 25, 2010

After vowing that he would rather be fired than quit as Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Gen. Delfin Bangit changed his mind and decided to retire last June 22, 2010, a year before he reaches his mandatory retirement age.

A graduate of the Philippine Military Academy’s Class of 1978, Bangit started his military career as a lieutenant assigned to a platoon that fought the Moro National Liberation Front in Lanao del Sur.

But after 20 years as a combat officer, Bangit pursued a different path in his military career. He became senior aide-de-camp of then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The change of environment — from the battlefields in Moroland to the halls of power in Malacañang — would have been a culture shock for a seasoned combat soldier. That would be like being sent to a “gulag.” But to then Col. Bangit it was an opportunity to advance his career without firing a gun at the State’s enemies, just keeping a watchful eye on the president’s enemies.

It did not come as a surprise then that when Gloria was catapulted to the presidency after President Joseph “Erap” Estrada was ousted in a “people power” revolution in 2001, Gloria rewarded her loyal aide-de-camp with plum assignments.

It is interesting to note that Bangit’s stint as Gloria’s aide-de-camp was never mentioned in his official biography. There is a gap between August 1998 when Bangit was Chief of Staff of the Intelligence and Security Group of the Philippine Army and February 2003 when he was appointed Commander of the Presidential Security Group (PSG). This was where he earned his first star as a Brigadier General.

It was during Bangit’s assignment as commander of Gloria’s Praetorian Guard that three coup attempts were made against her administration. In August 2006, Gloria appointed him as concurrent Chief of Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces (Isafp). As Gloria’s spy master, Bangit used the codename “Emperor.”

In October 2005, in his eagerness to protect Gloria, Bangit ignited a public outcry when he requested the churches near Malacañang to disallow Masses attended by anti-Arroyo forces. He dropped his request when he met strong resistance from lawmakers and the public.

In December 2006, Bangit hosted a lavish Christmas party at the Isafp office at Camp Aguinaldo where he threw P500 bills while the merrymakers chanted, “Long live the emperor!”

It was reported in the news that Bangit had been throwing parties at Isafp almost every other day during that month. Makes one wonder how much a spy master earns spying on people. The day after his Christmas party, Bangit brought the entire Isafp staff to a party with Gloria aboard the presidential yacht “Ang Pangulo.” Now, that’s what I call “special presidential treatment.”

Shortly thereafter, Bangit got his second star as a Major General. Not bad for a man whose only job was protecting the president and spying on her enemies.

In September 2007, Bangit was given a command assignment of the 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army. A year after, in May 2008, he was given a command assignment of the Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM), a stepping stone to the high command of the Armed Forces. Three months later, in August 2008, Gloria promoted Bangit to Lt. General, a three-star rank, thus paving the way to a bigger role in the military.

Indeed, in April 2009, the Defense Department announced that Gloria had picked a successor to AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano who wasn’t due to retire until June 13, 2009. It turned out that Yano had opted to retire earlier on May 1, 2009 to take an ambassadorial appointment from Gloria. Like a musical chair game, Army Chief Gen. Victor Ibrado took over Yano’s Chief of Staff post and Bangit took over Ibrado’s Army Chief post. Speculation was rife then that Gloria would eventually appoint Bangit as Chief of Staff when Ibrado retires in March 2010.

But the problem was that Ibrado’s mandatory retirement age was March 10, 2010, the first day of the constitutional ban on “midnight appointments.” From that day on until Gloria steps down from the presidency on June 30, 2010, she is not allowed to make appointments except for temporary positions to fill up vacancies in the executive branch.

Had Ibrado decided to take an early retirement like Yano, even for a day sooner, Gloria wouldn’t have any problem with appointing Bangit as Chief of Staff. But for some reason, Ibrado wouldn’t budge into retiring earlier than March 10, 2010.

Thus, Gloria, in an attempt to circumvent the constitutional ban on “midnight appointments,” appointed Bangit on March 9before the ban took effect. However, since Ibrado was still in the Chief of Staff post until the following day, Bangit’s appointment would not take effect until Ibrado retired on March 10. Therefore, Bangit’s appointment was deemed a “midnight appointment.”

And to make the matter worse, the Commission on Appointments (CA) adjourned sine die without confirming Bangit’s promotion to a four-star General, the rank for Chief of Staff. And without a CA confirmation, his promotion is dead on the water.

When President-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino announced that he was going to appoint a Chief of Staff to replace Bangit upon his ascension to the presidency on June 30, Bangit submitted his early retirement to Gloria to be effective June 22.

Bangit’s meteoric rise to the high command did not dwell too well with many officers who were of the opinion that they were bypassed because of Bangit’s closeness to Gloria. Indeed, Bangit probably holds the record of having the highest number of star promotions in the shortest time — from a Colonel to a four-star General in seven years. He bypassed the entire PMA Class of 77 which has several generals more senior than him.

In a military organization with a long tradition of promoting according to seniority in rank, Bangit’s rise is perceived as a politicization of the military, which has been the norm in the nine years of Gloria’s presidency. And coupled with this is the militarization of the government where retiring generals were rewarded with plum appointments in the cabinet, large agencies and commissions, and ambassadorial assignments. Indeed, Gloria’s “revolving door” policy bought the loyalty of generals while they were in the service and rewarded them when they retired.

After the traditional testimonial parade in his honor the day before his retirement, Bangit lamented that he “could have done more for the military if given more time.” But like all those who preceded him, Bangit should be happy for what he has accomplished for himself. He made it to the top over an entire class his senior. And just like every soldier who served his country well, he has some good stories to tell when he was once the “Emperor.”

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