Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is too late and too old to join the fighting in Marawi, so the public should not attach too much significance to his decision to join the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) as a reservist. He will also become a member of the newly created Philippine Marine Corps of advisers.
In explaining his decision, the speaker said the Marines are a vital unit of the armed forces, and he wants the Marine Corps to be moved to Mindanao, where they are now doing much of the heavy fighting in the ongoing war against the Maute extremists and other Mindano rebel groups.
By Alvarez’s calculation, the Marines can be deployed faster in major conflict areas in the South if they are based there. But that, in itself, is not a substantive reason for relocating so vital a military unit.
The question of where the Marine Corps should be based is not strictly a political issue and decision; it is strictly a military question. Our top military officers, along with perhaps the advice of the Department of Defense, should be completely in charge of this.
The issue must be considered entirely in the light that will best serve the effectiveness of our military in safeguarding national security and defense, and its possible impact on the fight against terrorism, which at this point is mainly located in Mindanao.
We will raise here the added point that there are far too many proposals being made nowadays for the relocation of certain agencies and government units to Mindanao as a kind of tribute to President Rodrigo Duterte’s provenance in the South.
These initiatives are coming prematurely because we are still a long way from shifting to a federal system of government—a radical change which will imply the establishment of new government structures and new military components, alongside the federal states that will be created.
In our view, the prudent and sensible approach to the transfer of government and military agencies is for government to undertake first a comprehensive study and review. Decisions must arise from a comprehensive and strategic plan. If we jump too soon to transfer offices and functions, we may discover later that they are better located elsewhere.
Decisions to transfer will always involve money. And there are areas where people are likely to feel disadvantaged when major agencies and military units are uprooted and moved elsewhere.
We raise this point to Speaker Alvarez because, to the extent that we know, he is not leaving his post in the House because of his enlistment in the Marines. He remains the speaker of our representative assembly, the House of Representatives of Congress. As such, he is the speaker for all our people and our country. And he should act as one.