Ex-AFP chief Esperon new security adviser

RETIRED General Hermogenes Esperon Jr., the incoming national security adviser, said Sunday the national security cluster of the administration of President-in-waiting Rodrigo Duterte will review the military's anti-insurgency program against the backdrop of renewed peace talks with the communist rebels.

But Esperon, who was a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces, said the review doesn't mean the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan would necessarily be scrapped as the communists have demanded.

"Why would we [scrap it]? We will review if it's working or not. We have periodic reviews. Bayanihan was tested by a battalion in Tarlac and later on it was used by the whole brigade," he said.

Retired General Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2 were implemented during Esperon's time until he became military chief but failed to eliminate the New People's Army. Esperon later on changed slogan from "eliminate" to bring to "inconsequential" the number of NPA fighters.

Earlier, the human rights group Karapatan has challenged Duterte to scrap the IPSP Bayanihan because it claimed the program worsened the human rights atrocities by government forces against civilians suspected to be NPA supporters.

Esperon said he believed Duterte is serious about resolving the communist insurgency.

In his campaign sorties, Duterte acknowledged his friendship with Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison.

"You've heard President Rody. While he is a leftist, he is not a communist. He is a socialist. So he doesn't want armed struggle. There must be only one entity in the Philippines that can bear arms and that is the government, its Armed Forces and police and its other armed services," Esperon said.

Esperon seemed to pick his words more carefully.

"The idea is not to decimate but to come into an agreement or a settlement where grievances can be addressed," he said.

It was during the time of Esperon as chief of staff that the Armed Forces claimed the number of NPA fighters had been reduced to about 4,000 from the peak of 25,000 in the 1980s. The communists claim a strength of 10,000 today.

Externally, Esperon said the Duterte administration would not allow China to deny Filipino fishermen their livelihood in the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea.

"Whatever comes within the 200-mile exclusive economic zones should be protected and the benefits [are ours]," Esperon said.

Esperon was among the allies of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo who have joined the Duterte government.

1-BAP Rep. Silvestre Bello II will be taking over the Labor and Employment portfolio,and will also reprise his role as adviser for the peace process between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front.

Another former Arroyo Cabinet appointee is University of the Philippines-School of Economics professor Ernesto Pernia, who will take over his old post at the National Economic and Development Authority.

The Arroyo allies in the Duterte Cabinet now number eight, including Carlos Dominguez (Finance), Andrea Domingo (the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.), Salvador Panelo (Press), Jesus Dureza (Peace Process), and Alfonso Cusi (Energy).

Duterte himself was Arroyo's presidential consultant on public order.

Duterte also confirmed that his campaign manager and former chief of staff-Maribojoc, Bohol Mayor Jun Evasco will be his Secretary to the Cabinet while Col. Rolando Bautista, head of the Joint Task Group Basilan will be task to head the Presidential Security Group.

In the same interview, Duterte confirmed that former Arroyo Defense chief Gilbert Teodoro and Lyceum of the Philippines Batangas and Cavite president Peter Laurel turned down his offer to head the Defense and Education departments, respectively.

Teodoro denied this, however, saying he is still contemplating the offer.

Duterte said he never offered the Budget position to outgoing Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, and said he is thinking of having Francis Tolentino return to his old post at the Metro Manila Development Authority after the one-year appointment ban for losing candidates lapses. He said he would not retain Kim Henares as Internal Revenue chief.

Duterte had earlier announced the inclusion of his San Beda classmates Salvador Medialdea as his Executive Secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre as Justice secretary, Arthur Tugade as Transportation and Communications secretary and Perfecto Yasay Jr. as Foreign Affairs chief.

Las PiAas Rep. Mark Villar will head the Public Works and Highways portfolio while long-time friend North Cotabato Gov. Emmanuel PiAol will be his Agriculture secretary.

Source: The Standard