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Experts: New security adviser indicates strong military lobby

PRESIDENT Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr. — PHILIPPINE STAR/KRIZ JOHN ROSALES

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

ANALYSTS on Sunday said the appointment of an ex-military general and former Duterte Cabinet member to the National Security Council under President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. showed a strong military lobby in the government.

“The military bloc obviously is really interested to keep its hold or control over important Cabinet positions that are concerned with defense and security,” Arjan P. Aguirre, who teaches political science at the Ateneo University, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“The national security adviser post is one of those key positions that for them should be held by a person whose interests are aligned with the short- and long-term agenda of the military bloc opting to operate in a particular administration,” he added.

Earlier this month, Mr. Marcos appointed Eduardo M. Año, a retired general of the Philippine Army, as his national security adviser, replacing Clarita A. Carlos, a political scientist and retired University of the Philippines professor.

The appointment of Mr. Año, who also served as Interior secretary under former President Rodrigo R. Duterte, “tells us of how effective the military bloc has been these past years in aligning themselves with the ruling coalition and making themselves useful in the defense and security Cabinet portfolios,” Mr. Aguirre said.

Mr. Año as head of the National Security Council will advise the President on security and foreign policy issues.

Ms. Carlos has said forces who wanted her out of the government had been besmirching her reputation since she got appointed — a claim that Mr. Marcos denied on Saturday.

“She felt that there were people who were moving against her in government,” he told reporters. “I kept telling her, I don’t really think so.”

“I guess she just found it too much. She didn’t enjoy her time in government which, you know, if we think about it, it’s not really surprising because that’s not her natural habitat,” the president said. “Her natural habitat is the academe. And so now, she will be in a think tank, which is perfect for her.”

Ms. Carlos, 76, is reportedly headed to the policy and budget research department of the House of Representatives.

During her stint at the council, she vowed to veer away from the US concept of national security, which she said has a military bias. She said national security should also focus on the “economic life” of Filipinos.

The previous government had been criticized for using militarist solutions to national problems, including the global coronavirus pandemic.

“Whatever motivated this change was either politics or a loss of confidence,” Kiefer Zachary Hipe, a military historian, said in a Messenger chat.

“What this says about our security sector depends on the genuine reason for these changes,” he said. “If it was competency-based, then we can assume that they are trying to align the sector to the ever-growing developments in the region.”

“If it was politics, then it shows that opportunism heavily thrives in the defense and security sector.”

Mr. Hipe said the military has kept its strong influence on the government even after the ouster of a military-backed dictatorship in the mid-1980s and restoration of democracy.

“[People Power] showed that military-supported changes have weight,” he said. “But the military remains subservient to political patronage.”

Chester B. Cabalza , a national security expert, doubts Ms. Carlos was removed from the post because she didn’t come from the military.

Mr. Cabalza said she had overseen for years the academic training of future top officers of the Armed Forces and select government bureaucrats, noting that she served as president of the National Defense College of the Philippines from 1998 to 2001.

“Therefore, she has been part of the wider defense and security sector.”

Last week, Ms. Carlos said she felt Mr. Marcos “made a difficult decision in letting me go.” “That’s how I read the situation. I should know if I have lost his confidence,” she told ABS-CBN News.

“Regardless of the complexity of internal and external security threats on the ground, the adviser must be skillful in commanding the giants in the military based on field experience,” Mr. Cabalza said.

Food security, insurgency and external defense issues remain the top security threats confronting the country.

The South China Sea dispute is among the Philippines’ external security concerns. On Saturday, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said the Chinese Coast Guard on Jan. 9 drove away a Filipino fishing vessel at the Second Thomas Shoal, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

This was days after Mr. Marcos met with Chinese President Xi Jin Ping in China, where the latter vowed to find a solution to avoid tensions in the disputed waterway.

“The national security adviser should be a thinker and doer at the same time,” Mr. Cabalza said. “He should provide more solutions to complex problems in our national, regional and global security.”

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