It’s your move, General Catapang!
Last July 14, this column discussed the political turning points for Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, and General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., who recently retired as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines upon reaching the compulsory retirement age of 56.
Roxas was told that if he could make the most of his advantages over his identified and unidentified challengers for the presidency in the May 2016 elections, he may win despite his objectionable ties to President Benigno Aquino III and the Liberal Party.
Catapang was urged to run for public office, possibly a seat in the Senate. His sterling credentials as a military officer and his unblemished record as a public officer, together with his heritage as a genuine hero of the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, will definitely work to his advantage.
Now that Roxas is in the presidential race, it’s time for Catapang to make his move.
Catapang has credentials many candidates for high public office can only long for. He has degrees from the Philippine Military Academy and the University of the Philippines, thus giving him exposure to both the military service and the civilian world.
Known for his idealism, Catapang was one of the youngest soldiers who organized the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.
When 75 Filipino soldiers went on a peace-keeping mission to war-torn Syria last year and, after fighting non-stop for seven days, found themselves surrounded by Syrian rebels, Catapang, as AFP chief, devised a successful strategy to get all 75 soldiers out of Syria safe and sound. A photograph of the war room at Camp Aguinaldo taken at the height of the military crisis and published in the newspapers showed Catapang in charge as every leader should.
The most important consideration is that Catapang never got involved in graft or corruption.
As a soldier, Catapang knows that many Filipino soldiers died in action in Mindanao, protecting the Republic of the Philippines from dismemberment by Muslim rebels. Despite the numerous lives lost, President Aquino and his follower led by House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. have decided to dishonor the bravery of our departed defenders by pushing for the enactment of the controversial and divisive Bangsamoro Basic Law—designed to hand over Mindanao to rebels with obvious ties to Malaysia, and whose alleged leader does not even want to give the government his real name.
Widows, orphans, relatives, and descendants of soldiers who lost their lives defending Mindanao are obviously opposed to the BBL, but they cannot speak their minds for fear of losing whatever minimal benefits they are entitled to as surviving heirs of soldiers who died in action. Retired soldiers who saw what happened in Mindanao share the sentiment. Soldiers in active service are also mum on the BBL for fear of retaliation from President Aquino as the commander-in-chief of the AFP. Almost all of these people are voters, and they need a champion against the BBL. That champion can be General Catapang.
If Catapang openly opposes the BBL, it is unlikely for him to get an invitation to run for the Senate under the LP—which is oozing with lots of campaign funds apparently generated from traditional sources. On the other hand, if Catapang is publicly seen as the principal opponent of the BBL, then all active and retired soldiers, and all military widows, orphans, relatives, and descendants opposed to the BBL will make up for the budgetary problem by giving Catapang their votes.
Even voters who are disinterested in the BBL cannot ignore Catapang as a candidate. Unlike the veteran solons seeking reelection despite their incompetence and the corruption scandals that haunt them, Catapang has savvy and an unblemished name. That should count for voters who have had enough with incompetent or corrupt politicians.
The illegal expansionist activities of Communist China in the West Philippine Sea have caused Filipino voters serious worries. That problem is better addressed not by traditional politician like Belmonte, but by a tested military strategist like Catapang.
Actually, Catapang’s options are not limited to the Senate. He can consider running for vice president, and he has a good chance of winning considering the kind of politicians who may run against him.
Senator Chiz Escudero, who is eyeing the vice presidency, is beholden to leaders of big businesses which are vulnerable to government regulation. Moreover, the issues regarding his marital life will not sit well with conservatives. Like Senator Grace Poe, Escudero is viewed as a political opportunist. Poe and Escudero confirmed this when they denounced Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and sided with the block-voting Iglesia Ni Cristo religious sect at the height of the INC rally along Edsa last August. Even from a simplistic perspective, one who hated the traffic nightmare caused by that rally will not vote for Escudero.
Another politician eyeing the vice presidency is Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. He has no track record in the Senate. Early on as a senator, he held secret talks with the communist government in Beijing over issues regarding the West Philippine Sea. After Beijing interpreted the backdoor negotiation done by Trillanes as a sign of Philippine weakness, Beijing embarked on its expansionist activities in the disputed maritime lanes. Senator Juan Ponce Enrile denounced Trillanes for what happened.
Although Trillanes frequently styles himself as a nemesis of corruption, the Commission on Audit scored him for hiring dozens of consultants (who include his relatives) far more than what the law allots to each senator. Despite these dozens of consultants, Trillanes has not authored any outstanding piece of legislation to justify his illegal, excessive expenditure of public funds. One can only imagine what abuses Trillanes will commit if he is elected to the vice presidency.
Now that the political environment is more or less defined, it’s time for Catapang to move. Many are waiting.