Aquino orders Oban to pursue reforms
FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio City—His marching orders from the Commander in Chief were clear: Press on with reforms to end corruption in the scandal-wracked Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Named new AFP chief of staff by President Benigno Aquino III Sunday, Lt. Gen. Eduardo Oban roughly has nine months to do the job. He is due to retire in December this year.
“[It’s] a big challenge,” Oban said shortly after Aquino announced his appointment at the graduation of 196 cadets of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in Baguio City.
Mr. Aquino said he was very confident Oban would successfully pursue the reforms started by outgoing AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Ricardo David.
“I have no doubt about his ability to continue the reforms that Gen. Ricardo David had started and to strengthen the AFP’s peace programs,” Mr. Aquino said in Filipino.
The President asked the 196 newly commissioned AFP officers to look up to Oban, whose name has not been blemished by graft scandals, as a role model.
“I hope General Oban would serve as an inspiration to the members of Class Laon Alab so our aspirations for our country would be fulfilled,” he said.
In assuming the post of AFP chief of staff, Oban, currently deputy chief of staff and a former combat pilot, is virtually flying into a political storm.
Corruption is an especially explosive issue in the ill-equipped and poorly paid 120,000-strong military and has sparked several insurrections by disgruntled troops in the last two decades.
Soldiers have been struggling with a dearth of weapons while battling communist and Moro rebels and al-Qaida-linked extremists.
In January, a new scandal broke out when former military budget officer Lt. Col. George Rabusa testified at the Senate that at least three retired military chiefs of staff pocketed huge amounts of money siphoned off from budgets for troop salaries, weapons, intelligence and a military hospital.
Former AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes denied the allegation but committed suicide at his mother’s grave last month.
Among the controversies Congress is looking into is the so-called “pabaon” (send-off gifts) in the military.
“Pabaon,” amounting to millions of pesos, supposedly benefited retiring military chiefs of staff in the past while incoming AFP leaders purportedly received fat “pasalubong” (welcome financial gifts).
New post for David
The retiring David recently said he was not getting any pabaon and that the only gifts he would receive when he retires tomorrow are his retirement benefits and the love and respect of his fellow soldiers.
In his speech, Mr. Aquino hinted a government post was awaiting David.
Oban is the fifth general from the Air Force to be named AFP chief of staff.
“He is a strategic thinker and modernization planner, having been the deputy chief of staff for plans (J5) and executive officer of the deputy chief of staff for capability, materiel and technology development (J9),” said AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta Jr.
Oban also used to handle the modernization program and the Self-Reliant Defense Posture (SRDP) program to develop the local defense industry.
“His extensive knowledge on the AFP modernization program will definitely propel the institution toward capability upgrade and development,” Mabanta said.
“He is a mild-mannered, true blue Air Force officer. A fighter officer,” he said.
Mr. Aquino had personally interviewed the candidates for the top AFP post in the presence of David and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin at the Palace Guesthouse, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
“The President doesn’t know General Oban personally,” he said, adding that it must be Oban’s military service record and his interview with the President that impressed the Commander in Chief himself.
Even if Oban is set to retire this year, Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said the new AFP chief of staff would be able to “move forward with meaningful reforms within the next eight to nine months.”
The Army chief, Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz, touted to have been a very strong contender for David’s post, confirmed reports that he had begged off from the job.
Ortiz, a recipient of the prestigious Medal of Valor, said he wanted to give the President the chance to appoint someone who would serve a longer term of office.
Ortiz will retire in November, just a month ahead of Oban. Both are members of PMA Matapat Class of 1979.
Oban studied for a couple of years at the University of Santo Tomas.
After graduating from the PMA, he underwent further pilot training at the PAF Flying School in Fernando Air Base in Lipa City where he served as instructor pilot for three years.
Oban also attended the International Defense Management Course in Monterey, USA and the International Flight Safety Officer Course in Kirtland, also in USA.
Among his key military posts was Philippine Air Force vice commander, after serving as assistant chief of air staff for operations (A3) and commander of the Air Defense Wing and 1st Air Division.
A native of Castilla, Sorsogon, Oban is a recipient of four Distinguished Service Stars, a number of Military Merit Medals, a Golden Aviator Award, two Group Commander of the Year Awards, a PAF Group Commander of the Year Award and Military Commendation Medals. With reports from Christine Avendaño; Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon; Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon; Associated Press and Inquirer Research
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