The President's Men And Women: Cory's loyal PSG chief takes helm of DND
By Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) Updated July 06, 2010 12:00 AM http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=590712&publicationSubCategoryId=63
MANILA, Philippines - Voltaire Gazmin was the first commander of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) during the administration of Corazon Aquino.
Now the late leader’s son, newly installed President Aquino, has again called on the now retired military officer to serve the government, this time as secretary of the defense department.
When asked if he had expected Mr. Aquino to appoint him to the Cabinet, Gazmin said yes and no.
“No, because at first, I thought I wanted to settle down already (as a retired officer). Yes, because he (Aquino) may have realized that I have a wide experience in dealing with soldiers and their problems. Maybe I was his logical choice,” Gazmin said in an interview with government radio dzRB.
The PSG replaced the Presidential Security Command (PSC) that was headed by the Gen. Fabian Ver, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) during the martial law regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Mrs. Aquino picked Gazmin to head the newly reorganized presidential guards because she personally knew him as a military officer who was assigned in Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija, where her husband Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was held as a political prisoner for several years.
She remembered Gazmin, who treated her with respect as an officer and a gentleman every time she visited her husband at his detention cell.
Gazmin was instrumental in quashing at least nine coup attempts that sought to overthrow the government of Mrs. Aquino from 1986 to June 1992.
So personally attached was Gazmin to the former president that he served as one of the pallbearers, along with other ex-PSG officers, during her funeral at the Manila Memorial Park in Parańaque last August.
“I think that (knowledge of military issues) is my advantage over civilians who do not have experience with soldiers,” Gazmin said.
Gazmin had served in the military for more than three decades.
He was raised in Tarlac and is a member of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1968.
Gazmin first served as a team leader of the Home Defense Forces Group before he was tasked to command major Army units.
He was assigned to different intelligence units before he was designated as commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Battalion in 1978, and later the 26th Infantry Battalion in 1980.
Gazmin led the 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion in Mindanao before he was appointed head of the PSG in 1986.
He was assigned to the Philippine embassy in Washington as defense attaché in 1992.
He was appointed commander of the 103rd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division in 1995 and the Army Special Operations Command in 1997.
He was appointed chief of the Southern Luzon Command in 1998 and the next year was promoted to commanding-general of the Army, a post he held until he retired from the service on Oct. 22, 2000. Gazmin was named ambassador to Cambodia after his retirement.
Gazmin has bagged numerous awards as a soldier, including the Philippine Legion of Honor, three Distinguished Conduct Stars, Distinguished Service Stars, a Gold Cross Medal, a Bronze Cross Medal, numerous Military Merit Medals, Military Commendation Medals, and campaign ribbons.
He was also a recipient of the Cavalier Award for Outstanding Achievements in Combat from the PMA Alumni Association in 1984.
While some of the current Cabinet members have set ambitious goals for their first 100 days, Gazmin plans to spend the so-called honeymoon period familiarizing himself with the job of a defense secretary.
“Well, number one is to put things in order. We will have to sit down and assess our problems and get to the bottom of all the problems so we can find solutions,” he said in an ambush interview at the AFP headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
“First things first. We put the right man for the right job. We will look into our modernization program and the welfare of the soldiers, the retirees and their families.”
Gazmin said his policy thrusts include hastening the AFP modernization program, conducting peace talks with communist and Muslim rebels, and enhancing the government’s disaster response capabilities.
“I will look into the modernization program of the government, why it is taking so much time. The modernization program was already there during my time. We will see what we can do,” he said.
“If they (rebels) want war, we have all the resources. But I am sure they would not want that. We will sit down and talk and stay within the bounds of the Constitution. The more you kill, the more enemies you create.”
Gazmin also vowed to look into the alleged anomalies in the DND and the AFP to start the drive against corruption in the military.