Philippine military chief General Hermogenes Esperon answers questions from journalists Friday, January 25, 2008 in Zamboanga City after inspecting troops in Basilan and Sulu provinces. Troops in the southern Philippines and Sulu provincial officials led by Governor Sakur Tan have expressed strong support on proposals to extend Esperon's term. A veteran army commander in Mindanao, Esperon is due to retire on February 9, 2008 at age 56. Governor Tan and his mayors have passed a joint resolution Friday urging President Arroyo to extend Esperon's term so he can continue his programs and reform in the military. (Mindanao Examiner Photo/Arthur Abasolo)
AMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 25, 2008) – Government soldiers deployed in Mindanao have expressed support to the possible extension of the term of Philippine military chief General Hermogenes Esperon.
Esperon, a veteran army commander in Mindanao, is set to retire on February 9 at age 56, but government sources said President Gloria Arroyo is likely to extend his term so he can continue his programs and reforms in the military.
Arroyo is in Switzerland since Tuesday for a series of meetings with the officials of the Aragon Financial Group (AFG) and the Swiss Chamber of Commerce. The AFG could help the Philippines in its policy to ensure continuous and adequate supply of energy through integrated and intensive exploration, production, management and development of the country's indigenous energy resources such as oil and natural gas.
The President may announce Esperon’s extension when she returns to Manila, sources said on Friday. It is unknown how long Esperon would be extended.
Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano is said to be the next AFP Chief-of-Staff.
“The soldiers are in favor of the continuation of General (Hermogenes) Esperon as CSAFP (Chief-of-Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines). We have our reasons in supporting him and we believe in his able leadership and capacity as our Chief-of-Staff.”
“We want him to continue implementing reforms and programs for the AFP and the soldiers,” an army platoon leader, who gave his name only as “Dela Cruz,” told the Mindanao Examiner.
Sulu provincial officials are also supporting the extension of Esperon’s term. “General Esperon has done a very a good job and as you know he is one of the proponent of many AFP-related humanitarian program in Sulu. We are very supportive of General Esperon and will support his extension as Chief-of-Staff,” Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan told reporters.
He said business and religious leaders and the mayors in Sulu are also supporting Esperon’s possible extension. “We have a relatively good peace and order condition in Sulu because of AFP and other stakeholders of peace. The AFP is our partner in peace and progress and we are the government’s partner in nation building,” Tan said.
Tan has previously hailed Esperon for creation of the National Development Command, a new unit in the AFP that especially focus on the basic socio-economic development and infrastructure projects in conflict-affected areas.
Through the NDC, the AFP hopes to contribute in the convergence of efforts by the different line agencies of government in the repair and construction of schools, health centers, sources of potable water, roads and bridges and in the process rebuild lives that have been disrupted by terrorist activities and violence.
Radio reports on Friday quoted Esperon as saying: “Di ko alam kung magkakaroon ng announcement. But kung magkaganoon man, tulad ng sinasabi ko, I'd be very honored to serve for some more time kung gaano katagal ibibigay sa atin na extension lalong lalo na, kailangan nating pursue ang ating momentum nagawa natin against the New People’s Army and Abu Sayyaf terrorists.”
(I don’t know if there will be an announcement (by the President), but if there will be as I have said, I would be very honored to serve for some more time. We need to pursue the momentum (of what we have already achieved) against the New People’s Army and the Abu Sayyaf terrorists.)
Esperon on Friday inspected troops in Sulu and Basilan provinces and Zamboanga City as part of his farewell visit in southern Philippines, where he started his military career.
In Zamboanga City, Esperon expressed gratitude to Tan and the mayors in Sulu and said the locals are supportive of AFP efforts in the province. “I would take it (support of Sulu provincial officials) as their oneness to the Armed Forces of the Philippines because of the sacrifices of our soldiers in the province.”
“We brought a lot of changes in Sulu, from how it was in the past years. I take that as a compliment and I would like to take that as recognition of the efforts of the Armed Forces in Sulu. I have always said that any extension must reflect on the kind of operations that our men in the field are doing,” he said in a press conference.
Esperon later spoke with troops inside the Western Mindanao Command headquarters where officials also expressed their support for his extension. (With reports from Nickee Butlangan and Arthur Sakaluran)