Gazmin: Critics driving wedge with Aquino
MANILA, Philippines—Smarting from the incessant criticism of his work style and uncommon closeness to President Benigno Aquino III, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said there were some in government who would love to take over the defense portfolio from him and they were behind the smear campaign against him.
“I guess there are sectors that would want to put a wedge between myself and the Armed Forces of the Philippines and myself and the President … The reasons are obvious. They can see that my relationship with the AFP and the President are strong. In government, the strongest force comes from the AFP,” Gazmin said in an interview.
Of all the criticisms leveled against him, the one that irks him the most is the suggestion that he dictates on the President in the appointment of key military positions.
Some of the secretary’s critics refer to the Board of Generals, the recommendatory body chaired by the AFP chief of staff, the “Board of Gazmin.”
Gazmin said this was unfair to the appointees and most especially to President Aquino who is being pictured as a “weakling.” He said Mr. Aquino was in fact a “decisive leader” who knows how to choose his appointees well.
The talk in the defense community is that Gazmin tends to overrule most of the senior military officers and key defense officials who were either his former junior officers or who served under his staff command when he was in the active service.
Gazmin described himself as a “strict” commander. “My military bearing is sometimes overbearing. I am really very strict,” he said.
He admitted that there were times during planning sessions or even during operations when he had “stepped on the shoes” of the AFP chiefs, like Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, who was once his platoon commander.
“But when I do that, I apologize to him and then I just (follow up) and consult, and ask what the course of action is,” Gazmin said.
According to Gazmin, even if today’s military commanders were once his junior officers, he expected them to debate with him and push their own plans for their service commands because they are the end users.
“I am just a policymaker,” he said.
He said he also believed everyone was “equal when it comes to discussions.”
“Everyone is given the privilege to argue their case. At the end of the day, it is our decision, it is the decision of the group. If we fail, it is everyone’s failure,” Gazmin said.
He said that when he gave an official a dressing down, it meant that he valued the person’s work and it was not because he wanted to embarrass the person. “When I ignore you, that’s when you should start thinking of your performance,” he said.
Gazmin was also criticized for staying in the background during last year’s security crisis in Zamboanga City and in the aftermath of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”
But he argued that he did not need to be in the limelight or be his own spokesperson because his job is to preside over discussions on the table and ensure that decisions are executed well.
Last year, it was also rumored that Gazmin was planning to give up the defense portfolio.
Not so. He is not about to desert the President, the son of Ninoy and Cory Aquino whom he had served for much of his military career.
“I will step down only when the President tells me to step down. And when I feel that I cannot perform anymore then I will tell the President that I cannot do the work anymore. But for as long as I can do it, I will stick it out with him. And I will serve him until the very end,” Gazmin said.
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