"Reducing the number will improve morale and efficiency."
Last week, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana made a prescient observation. According to him, there are too many general officers in the military. Considering that there are 190 generals in a force of 143,000 men, it is indeed top-heavy. One hundred forty-three thousand men is the size of a small field army of maybe 12 divisions with perhaps 35 general officers. Lorenzana wants to lower this number (190) to about 143 in order to have a ratio of one general officer to about 1,000 men. Even that number, however, may be a bit high. The better ratio is one general to 1,800 or 2,000 men. This is actually what is currently being practiced at least on paper.
A brigade commanded by a one-star general has about three battalions which number about 1,800 to 2,000 men per battalion if the present table of organization and equipment of the AFP is followed. In actual fact, however, a brigade is very much less than that. An army brigade right now is only about 1,350 officers and men or even less. This is because instead of 650 men per battalion, the usual number is only 450 men. But whether Lorenzana can succeed is, of course, another matter. For one, he should expect some resistance from the Officer Corps who will resist any diminution of advancement opportunities. Over the last few decades, the officer requirements of the AFP have been sourced from the Philippine Military Academy. This is largely due to the abolition of the ROTC program which provided about half of the Officer Corps of the AFP.
Another reason is that when the Constabulary was abolished to form the nucleus of the Philippine National Police, PMA graduates were barred from joining the PNP. Over the years, the cadet population has increased tremendously now numbering more than a thousand. Although the AFP strength has also increased, it is not by much. It is possible that the number of yearly graduates far exceeds what is needed. This is one reason that eventually, the organization becomes top-heavy and positions will have to be found or created for all the promotable officers.
One solution to this problem as suggested by Secretary Lorenzana is to reduce the number of general officers. If this can be accomplished, one unavoidable consequence will be the reduction of the number of cadets entering the PMA to match the actual entry level officer requirements of the AFP. The benefit of this in the long run is that there would be no need to scramble or create new positions for promotable officers. It is hard to imagine a force of only 143,000 men having 11 or 12 three-star generals and a few dozen two-star ranked officers. Lorenzana is quite right that it is an unhealthy situation and reducing the number of general officers will certainly make the AFP slimmer and meaner. But any major changes will in the end depend on the overall strategy of the AFP, especially how it views the current threats to our national security.
A few years ago, The AFP was talking about putting more resources on improving our external defense capabilities. But as we can see, the AFP is still quite busy with its internal defense duties. Perhaps the AFP would like to consider giving the Philippine National Police more of its internal defense functions so that it can focus on external defense because it cannot obviously do both at the same time. But if this were to happen, there would be a major force restructuring for both the AFP and the PNP. The PNP for instance will have to increase its field force considerably to go back to what it was like during the Constabulary days-—A paramilitary force trained and equipped to fight a low-intensity conflict. If this happens, the AFP can then focus exclusively on modernizing the AFP principally for external defense duties. This idea in itself might generate resistance from both the police and military.
A slimmer and meaner AFP has been what the defense leadership has been wanting to achieve for years. But what does this mean, exactly? Lessen the number of Army battalions but fill up the personnel strength and equipment as mandated by the table of organization and equipment? The Defense Department will have to spell out the parameters of a slimmer and meaner AFP and how to achieve it. Reducing the number of general officers, after all, will have considerable repercussions on the AFP. But if Secretary Lorenzano is successful, it will have far more advantages than disadvantages for the AFP. Morale and efficiency will certainly improve. Understrength units will be filled up and the prestige of rank will certainly mean more to those holding it. Secretary Lorenzano should go ahead and do it.