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MANILA, NOVEMBER 6, 2006 (STAR) SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan - There
goes one good performer and non-politician on his way out of the Cabinet.

People who knew Avelino Cruz well probably saw his resignation coming
when, completely out of character, he publicly poured out his sentiments a
week ago against colleagues in the Cabinet who he said were demonizing him
following the defeat of the people’s initiative in the Supreme Court.

The uncharacteristic outburst was precipitated by a leak from a ranking
Malacañang official while President Arroyo was in China that Cruz could
become a casualty of the Supreme Court ruling.

Cruz was still the mild-mannered defense chief throughout our subsequent
chats, but he had the air of someone who was fed up and ready to undertake
a kamikaze maneuver.

It took another week before he finally did it.

As of last night the word from Malacañang was that the President had not
yet acted on Cruz’s tersely worded letter of irrevocable resignation. But
I’m sure Cruz knows the meaning of "irrevocable."

It was notable during our chats that he never raised any beef against
the President, carefully limiting his criticism to his Cabinet colleagues.

Yesterday he told me that his parting with the President after a
45-minute heart-to-heart talk at Malacañang’s Music Room was "amicable."

He also described as mere "discussions" rather than "disagreements" his
conversations with the President over many issues.

Cruz remembers the "discussions" starting sometime in December last
year, and the key issues at the time had nothing to do with the people’s
initiative, he said.

"I’ve been in the government for six years," he told me yesterday. "I
felt it was time to go."

* * *

He had known Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo since her days as a senator, but
that doesn’t really count for much in a land where political expediency
often takes precedence over friendships or sound legal advice.

A prominent individual who sympathized with the opposition in efforts to
oust the President last year told me at the time that Cruz had declined
invitations to join the so-called Hyatt 10 in leaving the administration
at the height of the vote-rigging controversy.

Cruz does not discuss that chapter in his official life. Yesterday he
also declined to give details of his "discussions" with the President over
the past months, although he conceded that he had opposed the people’s
initiative from the start.

He would only say that his outburst the other weekend over the people’s
initiative did not trigger his irrevocable resignation. He came out in the
open last week, he said, merely "to set the record straight."

Though he would not give details, one can surmise that the "discussions"
were related to several moves with legal implications made by Malacañang
since last year — most of which, it must be noted, were later thumbed down
by the Supreme Court.

The "discussions" were also likely related to Cruz’s efforts to
implement the Philippine Defense Reform or PDR program and create a
professional military that is insulated from politics.

The PDR is Cruz’s biggest concern as he prepares to bow out of the
Department of National Defense (DND).

"Hopefully it will continue," he told me. "I will submit an
accomplishment report (to the President) and a proposal for the way

* * *

The progress of those reforms despite great odds will be a solid legacy
of Cruz as he leaves the DND.

Politics continues to exert an inordinate amount of influence in the
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), especially in the selection of top
officers for key positions. But many difficult reforms have been carried
out since Cruz took over the DND in 2004, although he would not want to
take credit for these.

He has managed to implement reforms proposed by the commission that was
formed after the Oakwood mutiny — proposals that probably earned him
enemies in politics.

Several members of that commission headed by former Supreme Court
Justice Florentino Feliciano are pleasantly surprised that their
suggestions, including those that could be politically risky for the
administration, are actually being carried out.

Among the notable ones is the drastic simplification of bidding
procedures and requirements to cut red tape and plug opportunities for
corruption in defense and military supply procurements.

In his two years as defense chief, Cruz had tried to drum into the heads
of AFP commanders the military’s proper role in a democracy, and that
staging a coup d’etat is not the answer to their grievances.

He also echoed the call of a succession of AFP chiefs for politicians to
do their part in de-politicizing the military and creating a professional

To augment AFP battalions and improve the capabilities of the military,
he pulled out all military personnel serving as bodyguards of everyone
except the President and those in the line of succession in case the Chief
Executive is incapacitated.

Mindful of the unresolved vote-rigging scandal implicating top military
officers, he also pulled out military personnel from election duties
except in conflict areas such as Sulu and in cases of emergencies.

This is starting to sound like an obit, so if you want to know what
other reforms could quickly be reversed upon Cruz’s departure, you can ask
the groups supporting those reforms.

* * *

This week, apart from preparing his accomplishment report on the PDR,
Cruz is also preparing for a long vacation after Nov. 30.

He has no immediate plans of returning to his law practice, he said.

His involvement in the law firm that he founded together with Arthur
"Pancho" Villaraza and Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, author of the SC
ruling against the people’s initiative, precipitated the latest Cabinet
intrigue against Cruz.

Now he wants to stay away from the snake pit.

"Para akong nabunutan ng tinik," he told me — it’s as if a thorn in his
flesh has been taken out.


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