Manila – Amid rumblings in the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) over the scandal-plagued Arroyo administration, newly-installed military chief Lt-Gen Generoso Senga has urged his soldiers not to get involved in politics. "Our entire organisation must be insulated from politics. We shall remain apolitical, focused on our primary mandate as protector of the people and our country's sovereignty," said Lt-Gen Senga, who took over from retiring General Efren Abu, in a speech on Aug 15.
The new AFP chief, who as a battalion and brigade commander led operations against communist and Muslim rebels, urged soldiers to focus on their task of maintaining peace.
"The AFP's transformation at this point is not so much the modernisation of equipment and arms to match those of more advanced countries. We cannot afford it anyway," he said.
"The transformation that we need today is in changing the way we, soldiers and leaders, think about the challenges and opportunities presented to us by the program for reform."
As President Gloria Arroyo battles to keep her administration alive, a stable and neutral military is seen as crucial for her to maintain her hold on power. Mrs Arroyo faces an impeachment trial over accusations that she rigged last year's election and following allegations that her family pocketed illegal gambling payoffs.
The charges have set off fresh coup rumors. Allegations against her, based on wiretapped phone calls, suggest military generals may have helped her cheat in last year's presidential election, sparking anger among middle- to lower-ranking officers in the 115,00-strong military.
Senior commanders recently sought to calm fears of another military coup by vowing to stay neutral in the political crisis. But analysts say there is still considerable restiveness in the ranks over low pay and the pace of reforms.
Critics have accused Mrs Arroyo of using "revolving door" appointments of military chiefs to ensure their loyalty with better pay, pensions and title of office. Lt-Gen Senga will serve less than one year in his new post, since he will each the mandatory retirement age of 56 in July next year.
* Senga: Spare AFP from politics (The Philippine Star, Aug 16)
* No politics for AFP, Senga told (The Manila Times, Aug 16)