THE National Defense secretary recently made what to us sounded like a heartbreaking plea for people to stop saying he is incompetent.
This space has never called him incompetent. But after hearing his cry, we now do wonder whether he is or he is not. We remember most two incidents that suggest he has basic deficiencies. These may not be the lack of some competencies but some other skills or virtues necessary in a Cabinet member, specially in a secretary of national defense.
The first incident is his misadventure in Tacloban in the company of Department of Interior and Local Governments secretary Manuel Araneta Roxas. They had gone to Tacloban hours before Haiyan/Yolanda struck with all its fury. That typhoon has been described as the Earth’s most powerful and devastating one on record.
On their arrival that afternoon, they held a meeting with Tacloban officials and leading people of the city.
Both Mr. Gazmin and Secretary Roxas were apparently unaware that at that very same hour, in Manila, President BS Aquino, guided by the latest Pag-ASA weather bulletins, was calling on the people to be ready for the great disaster that Haiyan/Yolanda would inflict by around midnight. The two secretaries held the meeting, giving a pep talk to the local officials, and told them to sleep well and prepare to fight off Haiyan/Yolanda the following morning.
They were not giving the Tacloban folk the same urgent warnings PNoy and Pag-ASA were broadcasting from Manila. They were not on the same page, and literally not on the same radio wavelength with PNoy and Pag-ASA. If they were competent, or at least armed with foresight and the sense of urgency that typhoons should ignite in a normal person’s brain, they should have been on the same page with Pag-ASA but they weren’t.
So they went to bed, presumably after a happy dinner.
And it was while they were asleep when Haiyan/Yolanda bore down on Tacloban. Secretaries Gazmin and Roxas had to be rescued from the raging wind and rising sea waters that had threatened to tear down the hotel and made seven ships fly into Tacloban city.
The other incident, which was surely more than that, is the Mamasapano Massacre, where the 44 PNPSAF commandos were martyred by soldiers of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. The commandos were performing their duty to arrest wanted international Islamic terrorists.
Messrs. Gazmin and Roxas, the two highest security officials under President BS Aquino, said or did nothing to prevent the massacre from happening.
Throughout the whole day that they were in the company of PNoy, who was in command of the PNPSAF operation in Mamasapano, they either knew nothing of the massacre or pretended not to know. And when nearly everyone already knew that half of the commandos had been killed and those who were still alive were calling for reinforcements and rescue, these two topmost security officials of our Republic, continued to be silent and inactive.
Both Secretary Gazmin and Secretary Roxas did not show exceptional competence in handling themselves and the power of their positions, at least to be supplied with intelligence. Didn’t they have, each of the two of them, a trusted subaltern whose only job was to provide them with the hottest intelligence about the most explosive goings on at all times? If they didn’t, then they must really be awfully, woefully, incompetent!
We also have this other issue with Secretary Gazmin. This was raised by our columnist Atty. Brigido Dulay. The DND chief has up to now not answered fundamental questions about the anomalous purchase of substandard Huey helicopters.
This matter involves competence. But also whether Mr. Gazmin treads the Daang Matuwid that PNoy claims to be the hallmark of his government.