Antonio Parlade dropped a bombshell.
The retired general did not elaborate on his cryptic message that Senator Lawrence Christopher “Bong” Go was part of the country’s problems.
“I cannot align with SBG (Senator Bong Go),” Parlade told journalists after he filed his candidacy for president at the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
“I’m sorry. But kasama siya sa problema ng bayan natin… I just don’t like the way he does things, including controlling the decisions of the president.”
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) quickly distanced itself from the retired army general’s tirades against Bong Go, saying the military would remain apolitical and would not meddle in politics.
But Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana belied the statements made by the former spokesman of the National Task Force for Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), defending the president’s long-time personal assistant.
“In the years I have known the President, he has always been his own man,” Lorenzana said in a statement.
“The President stands by his own decisions, has always been firm in his directives to us who are working for him, and is not as easily swayed or influenced by others as purported by the general.”
He said Senator Go “has always been our main bridge to the President and I have not known any instance when he acted outside the wishes and decisions of the President.”
To the public, Go appears to be the president’s loyal and trusted ally. Go’s statements have more weight than Duterte’s spokesman, who often was clueless on what the president’s policies were.
Moreover, Duterte often contradicted his spokesman, who obviously guessed whenever he explained and expounded on the president’s statements. Go’s statements are more authoritative and mirror what the president thinks and says.
Go could second-guess what the president would want to say to the public because of his familiarity with Duterte. He has been a personal aide for more than 20 years and has remained by the president’s side even after he was elected senator in 2019.
Even Duterte’s own children are not happy with the senator’s unbridled access and closeness to the president. They could not directly communicate with him because Bong Go holds the president’s mobile phones. Even before Duterte was elected president in 2016, Bong Go has been juggling three or four phones, making calls and sending text messages at the same time.
Some political allies blamed Bong Go for the president’s lapses and missteps because he was filtering information and was whispering in the president’s ears what he wanted Duterte to hear.
They described Bong Go as the cordon sanitaire. The president’s gatekeeper.
The military also knows this very well. It’s an open secret in the officers’ corps that they need Bong Go’s approval for every promotion and assignment, but they would not admit that in public.
There’s a running joke among military officers — both active duty and retired — that Bong Go has replaced the board of generals in recommending who gets appointed to key positions and who gets promoted to the next higher rank. Instead of the military’s BOG, it has become a one-man SBG.
There were also rumors swirling inside Camp Aguinaldo that big-ticket military contracts also must get Bong Go’s nod before a notice of award is sent out to winning contractors.
For instance, some officers believed Bong Go was instrumental to the unceremonious relief of Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado as the Philippine Navy’s Flag Officer-in-Command (FOIC) in 2017 for opposing the South Korean combat management system for the guided missile frigates the Philippines was acquiring.
Former senator Antonio Trillanes believed Bong Go pushed for the Korean combat management system over the Dutch system, which is widely used in most Western navies.
There were also some talk about military radio sets and communications equipment bought that were not compatible with each other, making it hard for different military units to talk to each other.
It was also rumored that Bong Go’s associates from Davao City pushed out the South Koreans in the multi-million contract to supply the Philippine Army with Chinese-made military trucks this year.
For many years, KIA Motors has supplied trucks and other transport vehicles to the army and marines under a government-to-government deal. It was the first time a local company was awarded a commercial contract, under which 70 trucks were bought from a Beijing company.
The truck deal could be similar to the nearly P11 billion in medical supply contracts of the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.
The involvement of powerful and influential political forces in procurement activities of the military and police is not uncommon in every administration.
In fact, it was widely believed that relatives of Cory Aquino benefited when the air force bought S-211 trainer jets from an Anglo-Italian aerospace company in the late 1980s as well as armored vehicles from the British company despite protests from the United States.
Mike Arroyo, the husband of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was charged for the purchase of overpriced helicopters for the police during her time.
But the difference now is the government was acquiring military equipment that are not compatible with US and Western military standards.
Parlade was saying people who are outside the chain of command should not interfere with the military’s table of organization and equipment (TOE) and that the Armed Forces of the Philippines should be shielded from partisan politics.
Retired military officers shared Parlade’s sentiments and there were fears the old “bata-bata” system under dictator Ferdinand Marcos was returning under President Duterte.
Most appointments to key positions in both the military and police are generals who in one way or the other had served in the Davao area, like Ronald dela Rosa who jumped in the seniority list to become national police chief in 2016.
Parlade’s sudden tirades against Bong Go was a surprise. It was totally unexpected from a loyal army general who was appointed to Duterte’s government after shedding his uniform in July this year.
This is, perhaps, because of the election season. Parlade, who certainly had ambitions to become senator, suddenly filed his candidacy for president. He is probably running not to win because he knows he has poor chances.
But he could be running to have a platform to speak out and attack other presidential aspirants. There could be puppeteers pulling strings behind Parlade.
Parlade’s attacks against Bong Go were very timely and relevant after the latter switched to running for the presidency as a result of Sara Duterte-Carpio’s decision to join the race for vice president.
But can Parlade sustain his attacks? If this is a one-time bombshell, it might backfire on him. He should come out with more specifics and sustain his attacks if he does not want Bong Go to succeed.
Otherwise, Parlade would be like a dog — all bark with no bite.