Defense Department officials, in an embarrassing about-face, withdrew an invitation to Philippine Gen. Fabian Ver yesterday to a retirement ceremony for the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"We originally issued an invitation to Gen. [Fabian] Ver but our intent was to invite Lt. Gen. [Fidel] Ramos," said a spokesman for the office of the Joint Chiefs. The ceremony, scheduled for Sept. 30, is to honor retiring Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., and 1,000 invitations were sent to his counterparts around the world.
Ver has been placed on leave while on trial with 25 other men in connection with the murder of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. Ramos is acting chief of staff. Moreover, the United States has made clear that it considers Ver to be a major obstacle to change in the Philippine military and clearly has placed greater stock in Ramos. The Pentagon has indicated it considers reforms essential to help counter a growing Communist insurgency.
Ver, 64, is the Philippines' most powerful military officer and a close confidant as well as distant cousin of President Ferdinand Marcos.
"We will let the people there [in the Philippines] know that the invitation to Gen. Ver will be withdrawn, and we are in the process of doing that," said spokesman Lt. Col. Ed Robertson. "It was an oversight on our part and it was a mistake."
Robertson said a list of the guests was drawn up and invitations were sent out about two weeks ago. In the process of checking the list, the mistake was noticed. "Somebody had misread a mark on a piece of paper," he said.
The first invitation was sent to the Philippine defense attache in Washington, Brig. Gen. Angel Kanapi, who then passed it on to Manila, where newspapers reported it yesterday.
Ver and seven other military officers have been charged as accessories in a cover-up of the 1983 assassination of Aquino, the political archrival of Marcos. The Philippine Supreme Court has ruled that evidence supplied by Ver could not be used against him, on grounds that it was self-incrimination. This is expected to result in his acquittal.
Marcos has said he intends to keep his word to reinstate Ver as armed forces chief of staff if he is acquitted.