President Aquino will preside over the turnover of command in the Army’s top post Tuesday afternoon at the Army headquarters, a day after appointing the new Army chief, who led a Scout Rangers unit in several military operations against the Abu Sayyaf bandits in Mindanao.
Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes will take over from Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista as Army commanding general in a change of command ceremony at the Army Grandstand in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig at around 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Before his appointment, Coballes, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1980, was AFP vice chief of staff, and before that, commanding general of the Western Mindanao Command.
Bautista formally assumed the post of Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff in turnover rites presided over by Mr. Aquino in Camp Aguinaldo last Thursday.
Seasoned combat officer
The military welcomed the appointment of Coballes.
“General Coballes is a seasoned combat officer. Most of his assignments in the field [were in Mindanao]. He has gone through command positions in infantry units and also in the Scout Rangers as regiment commander,” the AFP spokesperson, Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr., told reporters.
“He is a battle-hardened soldier. Since most of his assignments were in the field, we can say he has been in touch with our soldiers [on the ground]. He spent 14 years of his career in Mindanao,” he added.
Burgos expressed confidence that Coballes would continue to implement the Army’s development programs, particularly the Army Transformation Roadmap, initiated by his predecessors.
“The Philippine Army will pick up pace under General Coballes,” he said.
A native of Tuguegarao City, Cagayan, Coballes first saw action in Mindanao as platoon leader of the Army’s 26th Infantry Battalion before he was designated to lead the line companies of the 2nd Scout Rangers Battalion.
Coballes was also tasked with heading four different Task Group Panthers, which supervised the elite Scout Rangers unit in running after Moro rebels and bandits in Mindanao.
Abu Sayyaf’s nemesis
A news release from the Army said Coballes headed the Scout Rangers in launching successful military offensives against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan in 1995.
“[He] was credited for the neutralization of several Abu Sayyaf terrorists who were responsible for the kidnapping of civilians in the area,” the statement read.
“He personally led his unit in many decisive battles, earning him the admiration and respect by his peers and subordinates,” it added.
For his stint in Maguindanao, Coballes was awarded twice with the Distinguished Conduct Star, the second highest combat medal for bravery in the military.
He also received three Distinguished Service Stars, five Gold Cross Medals for gallantry in action, two Bronze Cross Medals and several military merit medals.
Alcala’s former aide
Calayag hails from Dolores, Quezon and is a former chief of staff of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala during his first term as congressman of Quezon.
“He has my trust. I knew him personally … and I worked with him during my first term as congressman,” Alcala told reporters on Monday.
Alcala, a two-term congressman of Quezon’s second district before he was picked to lead the agriculture department, recommended Calayag to the President.
Alacala described the new NFA administrator as a “balikbayan” whom he had convinced to go back and serve.
Calayag held various positions in the private sector in the United States. He was a former patient services specialist at Swedish Medical Center in Washington after he served as auditor of Bellevue Sheraton Hotel, loan officer of the Bank of America, and relationship manager of KeyBank.
The new NFA head was also executive director of the Progressive Community and Ecological Services Organization, a nongovernment organization helping farmers, fisherfolk, the youth, women and other sectors in the areas of livelihood, job generation and environmental protection.
During his oath-taking at the agriculture department’s headquarters on Monday, Calayag promised that he would ensure that the country’s food security was protected and the prices of rice and corn were stable to benefit both the farmers and consumers.
To do that, Calayag said he would ask for the trust and cooperation of every NFA employee, which are crucial to a more aggressive palay procurement operations.
He also hoped to upgrade the status of NFA as a government-owned and -controlled corporation.