Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MANILA3095 2006-07-24 09:57 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manila
DE RUEHML #3095/01 2050957
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 240957Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2145
INFO RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
C O N F I D E N T I A L MANILA 003095
STATE FOR EAP/MTS, INR/B
USPACOM ALSO FOR FPA HUSO
SECDEF/OSD/ISA/AP FOR TOOLAN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/24/2016
TAGS: MOPS MCAP PREL PTER PINR RP
SUBJECT: ESPERON – THE BATTERING RAM
Classified By: (U) Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Scott Bellard
for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).
¶1. (C) SUMMARY. Lieutenant General Esperon succeeded
General Senga as the 35th Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces
of the Philippines on July 21. He has a reputation as a
tough combat soldier, and has pledged both to crush Communist
rebels and put down any attempt to unseat the Arroyo
government. Esperon strongly backs Philippine Defense
Reform, and is especially interested in improving the lot of
common soldiers. He has worked closely with US counterparts
in the past, and is likely to continue to do so as Chief of
Staff. END SUMMARY.
A SOLDIER’S SOLDIER
¶2. (SBU) Lieutenant General Hermogenes “Jun” Esperon, Jr.,
the new Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines
(AFP), stands in stark contrast to his predecessor, the
amiable Generoso Senga. Barrel-chested, dour, and taciturn,
he is a soldier’s soldier, who is more respected — and
perhaps feared — than loved by his colleagues and
subordinates. A 1974 graduate of the Philippine Military
Academy, Esperon has spent almost entire career in combat.
As a second lieutenant, he battled Muslim insurgents during
intense and ferocious fighting in Jolo, and later was hand
picked in 2001 because of his experience to command the 103rd
Infantry Brigade on Basilan in the pursuit of Abu Sayyaf
Group terrorists, who had kidnapped American missionaries.
Earlier in 2000, he had commanded the 602nd Infantry Brigade
in Cotabato, leading then-President Estrada’s “all out war”
offensive against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)
that culminated with the capture of the MILF’s principal base
camp of Abu Bakr. He was Deputy Chief of Staff for
Operations (J3) in 2002-2003, and subsequently served as
commander of the 7th Infantry Division and Commander of the
Special Operations Command in 2004. He became head of the
Philippine Army in 2005, where he spearheaded the “Battalions
of Excellence” program and convinced Secretary of Defense
Cruz to include it as an integral part of Philippine Defense
LONG-STANDING TIES TO ARROYO
¶3. (C) Having served as Deputy Commander of the Presidential
Security Group under then-President Fidel V. Ramos, Esperon
was chosen by President Arroyo as PSG Commander in 2002-2003.
Only one other PSG commander, General Fabian Ver, has had
the distinction of going on to become AFP Chief of Staff.
Considered by many as an Arroyo loyalist, Esperon’s name
figured in the notorious “Garci tapes” vote-rigging scandal
related to the May 2004 Presidential elections. Although
subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing by military
investigators, Esperon continues to face criticism — which
he shrugs off — from leftist and opposition politicians.
However, few expect such criticism to have a significant
impact on his ability to serve as Chief of Staff.
READY TO SUPPRESS ANY THREAT TO THE GOVERNMENT
¶4. (C) Observers widely credit Esperon for playing a key
role in snuffing out the February 24 coup attempt involving
small elements of the Marines and the Scout Ranger regiment.
Esperon quickly rallied Philippine Army troops and reportedly
instructed his units to fire on mutinous Marines and Rangers
should they leave their barracks. In public comments,
Esperon, (playing upon his name, which means “ram” in
Spanish), stated coup plotters would not have any chance with
him. “I will batter them,” he said. As Philippine Army
commander, Esperon reportedly recommended the court martial
of Brigadier General “Danny” Lim, who was relieved as head of
the Scout Rangers after the February coup effort unraveled.
He has warned that as Chief of Staff he will be “strict” with
any soldier who does not follow the chain of command, rule of
law, and the Philippine Constitution.
FOCUS ON THE TROOPS
¶5. (SBU) Esperon has consistently focused on taking care of
his troops, and made improving soldiers’ welfare one of his
principal objectives when head of the Philippine Army,
stating that his emphasis was on the rifle squads, which he
considered “the backbone” of the Army. He has said that,
during his tenure as Chief of Staff, he intends to focus on
the concerns of officers and troops, and strongly and clearly
endorsed the Philippine Defense Reform program during his
change of command ceremony.
VOW TO CRUSH COMMUNIST INSURGENTS
¶6. (SBU) Vowing to crush Communist Party of the
Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA) rebels within two
years, Esperon has recommended (and President Arroyo has
approved) again to split Mindanao’s 72,000 member Southern
Command (SOUTHCOM) in two in order better to cope with the
Communist threat, as it was in the 1970s. Although the shape
of the new commands, which will take effect the first week of
August, is still unclear, the NPA is present largely on the
eastern half of the island, while the Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah
Islamiyah, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front predominate
on the western half. Esperon has pledged as well to send
additional forces to the Visayas within the next three months
to combat Communist rebels.
¶7. (SBU) Esperon is already pushing to redeploy many
desk-bound soldiers to the field to fight the insurgents.
Speaking to the press, he said, “We simply have to reexamine
our maneuver forces. Many are still in their headquarters;
we need to put them where they are needed. We have to focus
on the front lines.”
PAST GOOD RELATIONS WITH U.S. COUNTERPARTS
¶8. (C) With a retirement date of February 2008, Esperon will
be, after Narciso Abaya, President Arroyo’s longest serving
Chief of Staff, and can be expected to put his mark on the
Armed Forces. As a strong, no-nonsense leader, he is
unlikely to brook any dissent, and can be expected to deal
ruthlessly with any challenge to the Philippine government.
Esperon has worked closely with US counterparts throughout
his career. Although he is clearly no push-over, we expect
this close relationship to continue during his service as
Chief of Staff.
¶9. (SBU) Esperon is a highly decorated officer, having
received the Presidential Merit Award medal from President
Ramos in 1998, as well as two Philippine Legion of Honor
medals, nine Distinguished Service Stars, four Gold Crosses,
and six Bronze Crosses. He is married to Dr. Lorna
Valenzuela Esperon, with whom he has seven children. Despite
his fierce reputation, Esperon is said to be a devoted family
man, and his face lights up when discussion turns to his
family and his children. While projecting a hard exterior,
Esperon can be emotional. He broke down in tears during the
July 22 Philippine Army change of command when Defense
Secretary Cruz evoked the 1975 fighting in Jolo in which
Esperon lost his best friend, the brother of incoming
Philippine Army commander Lieutenant General Romeo Tolentino.
Esperon speaks fluent English.
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