Gen. Tolentino Shows How to Make it Big in the Military
I was in Jolo, Sulu almost four years ago as part of a fact-finding
team to investigate human rights abuses by the AFP. The results of the
investigation did not surprise us, many in our team being veterans of
fact-finding missions. What surprised us, however, was the scale and
brazenness in which it was perpetrated: People by the thousands fleeing
their homes, away from AFP's carpet-bombing and shelling. Rows upon rows
of houses of people suspected to be "rebel sympathizers" burned to the
ground. Indiscriminate arrests. Unprovoked killings.
That was four years ago. Now it has only gotten worse, not only for
Sulu but for elsewhere in the country. One only has to look at Southern
Tagalog, Western Visayas and Central Luzon. Meanwhile, the list of
politically-motivated killings of activists, journalists, church people and
lawyers continues to grow.
Upon the heap of corpses of these victims are remarkable military
careers erected. Like that of Romeo Tolentino. A member of the PMA Batch
'74 (who counts First Gentleman Mike Arroyo as its honorary member),
Tolentino has shown in his career so far that it takes guts and a
considerable amount of gore to make it in the military.
Only four years ago, Tolentino was a mere colonel assigned to the
military outpost of Jolo to chase away Moro rebels. He acquired quite a
reputation there. It was during his stint as brigade commander of 104th
IB when the war there intensified tenfold. His biggest break came after
the kidnapping of tourists in Sidapan, Malaysia by Abu Sayyaf. In
supposed pursuit of the bandits, Tolentino was given free reign in Jolo. One
shining moment in his career in Jolo was on April 24, 2002, when he
ordered his troops to shell Kahoy Sinah Elementary School in Parang, Sulu,
thereby killing four civilians including a kid.
For this feat and many others, he was promoted to brigadier general.
After my brief Jolo trip, I maintained close contact with concerned
people there. In 2003, after the Magdalo rebellion in Oakwood Mansions in
Makati, story was rife that senior military officers were condoning,
even participating in, massive corruption, thus fuelling the Magdalo
rebellion of junior officers.
During this time, I wrote a piece about military corruption based on
information given by people in the know in Jolo. Apparently, Tolentino
was right in the middle of under-the-table transactions there -- selling
to the enemy everything the military had from fuel to guns to
Some of the Magdalo officers in Oakwood including Capts. Gerardo
Gambala and Milo Maestrecampo – who recently took back everything they did
and stood for in Oakwood – served under Tolentino. On July 27, 2003,
Tolentino led in assembling the loyal government troops who were readied to
crush the Magdalo rebellion.
For his show of steadfast dedication to Arroyo's republic, Tolentino
was again promoted to major general.
At the height of the Hello Garci controversy, Tolentino again figured
in the news as one of the generals mentioned in the tapes who supposedly
helped Gloria Arroyo steal the 2004 elections.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Tolentino has been steadily rising
through the military ranks despite protests from legislators. Malacañang
apparently knows how to reward loyalty. In a span of three years,
Tolentino remarkably rose from a lowly colonel to a to a two-star general.
From a brigade commander to a division commander in two coveted commands
(Southern Command and Northern Luzon Command).
Just days ago, Tolentino again figured in Arroyo's promotion list, this
time as one of a handful of elite "three-star" generals in AFP. The
Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Presidential Chief of Staff Mike Defensor
as saying: "The President is really fond of him because of his
exploits. He is a known fighter."
Arroyo has reason to be fond of Tolentino, who is loyal, brutal, knows
how to keep secrets and is ready to dirty his hands for his boss.