Gen. Oban vows to slay Goliath of graft in AFP
MANILA, Philippines—Here comes a soldier who thinks he can slay a modern-day Goliath with a slingshot and two stones.
Assuming the post of chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Lt. Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr. on Monday promised he would protect all military funds from itchy hands, prosecute corrupt officers, tighten rules on procurement, pursue the AFP’s modernization program, and step up efforts at winning the peace.
A mouthful coming from someone who will be around for only nine months and six days and who is taking command at a time when Congress is probing into corruption scandals in the military.
Oban will reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on December 13.
Citing the biblical story about the boy David who felled the giant Goliath with a sling shot, Oban said: “While awaiting the fruits of our modernization, we shall work with what we’ve got.”
“He (David) worked with what he had and he defeated the enemy,” Oban said during the turnover ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo attended by President Aquino.
“Perhaps the reason why David succeeded was that he looked at Goliath not as an adversary to defeat but as a target too large to miss. Winning the peace gives us a target that is too hard to miss.”
Woe to the corrupt
Oban called on top military officers to follow “simple and healthy lifestyles.”
He said he would hold himself and other officers accountable in the use of funds and vowed to prosecute those engaging in corrupt practices.
“I pledge to strengthen the procurement process and ensure accountability of every resource manager in the Armed Forces,” Oban said.
He promised to undertake the computerization of the AFP procurement system to document all transactions, greater check and balance and more frequent unannounced audits.
The Commander in Chief sounded impressed.
Speaking extemporaneously, the President cited the reasons he picked Oban for the job, including the way Oban handled the insurgency problem when he was commander at Basa Airbase in Pampanga.
Mr. Aquino said the barangays around Basa were then heavily influenced by rebels but when Oban left Basa, these barangays were “no longer influenced because he helped in solving problems that he saw there.”
Mr. Aquino said there was a need for a creative approach in handling the insurgency problem and that because of Oban’s skills in “explaining concepts” during his stint as deputy chief of staff, “I am very hopeful that he will continue the policies” of the administration.
A battered AFP
“These are the reasons why I chose him to become the new chief of staff,” the President said.
Oban inherited an AFP pummeled by scandals, including the so-called pabaon (sendoff) practice implicating former top AFP officials who allegedly received tens of millions of pesos in send-off gifts on their retirement and who supposedly diverted military funds for their own use.
Stamping out corruption would be at the center of his policies, Oban said.
“I pledge to safeguard funds from all sources, including those of Balikatan and the United Nations and especially those coming from our taxes, the blood and sweat of our people,” he said. He was alluding to allegations that funds for military exercises with the United States and for UN peacekeeping missions had been misused.
“I shall hold myself accountable for their proper and effective utilization,” Oban said.
“And I pledge to strengthen the enforcement and prosecution of those who are not willing to work on this same pledge.”
Oban said the AFP would lobby to amend the Procurement Reform Act to allow new systems, like the use of purchase cards for military field personnel facing contingencies.
“In every activity of the Armed Forces, we shall remove two basic conditions that breed corruption—opportunity and motivation,” he said
This he would do, Oban said, “by further strengthening our systems and procedures that shall ensure accountability of every personnel and by promoting a culture that will encourage every soldier not to tolerate corrupt practices. We shall overcome.”
Oban also said he would continue the new internal peace and security plan dubbed Bayanihan.
Oban, a combat pilot and the fifth Air Force chief to head the 120,000-strong military, was previously the deputy chief of staff who supervised all offices in the AFP headquarters.
Among the former chiefs of staff at the turnover were retired Air Force Gen. Arnulfo Acedera, the chief of staff when Oban was the public information officer.
Oban vowed to “fully implement” the recommendations of the 2005 Feliciano Commission that looked into the July 27, 2003, Oakwood mutiny.
Responding to corruption allegations by rebel officers, the commission had recommended abolishing the chief comptroller’s office and simplifying procurement procedures.
No revolving door
Mr. Aquino told reporters he would not repeat his predecessor’s widely criticized “revolving door” policy of appointing chiefs of staff for only brief terms, and said he was after continuity in policy.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed 12 chiefs of staff in her nine years in office, with Benjamin Defensor serving the shortest stint of 69 days.
“It’s always going to be the best person available at this time for the job at hand, regardless of position,” Mr. Aquino said.
Oban told reporters he would set timelines and deadlines for joint staff offices to work on procurement and logistics reforms, modernization and housing for soldiers.
He said these reforms were “doable within the next four to five months.”
“I can only reciprocate by doing my job within the short period allotted to me. I’ll have to produce results … and lay down long term plans,” he said.
A “reformist by heart” was how former renegade officer Ariel Querubin described Oban, his mistah (classmate) in Philippine Military Academy’s Matapat Class of 1979.
“His track record is untainted,” Querubin told the Inquirer. “I believe him when he said that he will be true to the people. Our class has always been like that.” With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Marlon Ramos
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