Resigned defense chief named as anti-terror czar

EX-DEFENSE secretary Angelo Reyes, a former military chief who resigned from the Cabinet over a month ago, has been appointed as anti-terrorism czar with the official title of "ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism with a Cabinet rank."

Reyes took his oath of office before President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Malacaņang Wednesday, and assured that US President George W. Bush would be safe in the Philippines when he makes an eight-hour visit on Oct. 18.

"I don't think we have anything to worry about, and we are 100-percent certain that the visit will not be marred by any of these threats on his person," said Reyes, who has admitted to aiming for an elective position in 2004.

The President created the position for Reyes. She signed the appointment, dated Sept. 26 and coursed it through the Department of Foreign Affairs before she left for the United States and Europe last week.

Reyes quit as defense secretary on Aug. 29, saying he wanted to forestall what he described as a well-organized campaign to bring down the Macapagal-Arroyo administration.

His resignation came a month after a group of about 300 junior military officers and enlisted men staged a mutiny -- the government calls it a coup attempt -- in Makati City and demanded, among others, his resignation and that of Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus, who took over as chief of the Civil Relations Service Wednesday.

Corpus, ex-military intelligence chief, said he was happy that Reyes was back in the government, but declined to comment on the latter's appointment.

The leftwing Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) group said the new positions of Reyes and Corpus indicated the President's supposed lack of sincerity in reforming the Armed Forces, "much less in changing her militarist stance."

"Their resignations were all for show," Bayan secretary general Teodoro Casiņo said in a statement. He said the July 27 mutineers could "kiss their aspiration for a reformed Armed Forces goodbye, while the rest of the country can also say goodbye to their aspiration for a more peaceful and more humane government."

Reyes denied that he had thought about the position and sought it.

"That Cabinet rank was given by the President; it would not be proper for anybody to [demand such a] rank. The appointment was given to me, and I'm grateful to the President for it," he told reporters after being sworn in.

Reyes confirmed that he was initially offered the public works portfolio but turned it down.

He said he may be addressed as "General," "Ambassador" or "Secretary," and declared that his salary was "the least of my concerns."

Asked where he would hold office, he said: "I'm ambassador-at-large, so I'm everywhere and not anywhere. Right now, I'm NPA: no permanent address."

The President's spokesperson, Ignacio Bunye, said Reyes' service in the military and defense department qualified him for the new position.

Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Narciso Abaya said Reyes "knows the ins and outs of counter-terrorism, having served as defense secretary, chief of staff, and commander of the Southern Command."

Bunye told reporters, "You know very well that we have been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism and we have entered into regional arrangements with some of our neighbors and its very important that we have a high-ranking official to deal with his counterparts in those countries with whom we have anti-terrorist pacts."

Reyes said his job would be to "liaison, interface, coordinate" with other countries on the effort to combat regional and international terrorism. He said it would not be his job to go after fugitive Indonesian bomber Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi but would provide input to this and other domestic and regional terror problems.

He also said Japan, Australia and the United States had appointed counter-terrorism envoys to enhance their internal security and to coordinate their efforts with other countries.

Reyes said in a statement: "When I vacated my post as defense secretary, I said I will continue the fight against the enemies of democracy. The President thinks I will be of service to the country by orchestrating internal and external efforts to combat terrorism, and I welcome this new challenge."

The statement said Reyes' expertise would be tapped in battling local terrorists like the Abu Sayyaf and in dismantling training camps of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that are allegedly supported by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.


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