MANILA, Philippines – The new Philippine Army chief is “Superman.”
This was President Benigno Aquino’s words on newly installed Army chief Major General Hernando Iriberri during the change of command ceremony at Fort Bonifacio on Friday.
“I heard he is called in the AFP as code ‘Superman.’ He always leads in physical activities. As a new leader [of the Army], I hope he will showcase exceptional strength, discipline and dedication to transform the Philippine Army,” Aquino said in his speech.
Iriberri is a member of Philippine Military Academy “Matikas” Class of 1983. He was previously the commander of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division which holds jurisdiction of Central Luzon.
He also led the Army’s 503rd Brigade based in Abra, which Aquino also cited.
“Last year, as commander of the 503rd Brigade, his unit was instrumental in achieving the most peaceful elections in Abra. Because of his effective leadership, there was 83 percent voters turn out– the biggest in the record of Cordillera Administrative Region last year,” Aquino said.
But Iriberri is more known for his links with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin as he served as his aide or senior military assistant in the recent past. He also served as spokesperson of Gazmin when he was the Army chief in 2000.
Iriberri will lead an 85,000- strong Philippine Army, including the Army officers more senior than him. The Army area commanders, for instance, are Lieutenant Generals.
He was the most junior of the three officers in the shortlist for the Army leadership. He is scheduled to retire on April 22, 2016.
“There is no greater burden which I gladly accept on my shoulders,” Iriberri said in his assumption speech.
He thanked his previous bosses for having “the good fortune of serving under the command of some of the finest military commanders and strategists of our time,” including his closest rival for the Army chief post, Lieutenant General Gregorio Catapang of the Northern Luzon Command, a member of PMA Class 1981.
He also thanked Gazmin, whom he holds “the highest esteem.”
“For with them and through my own steam I steadily rose in rank and position,” he said.
A few moments after his assumption, he was supposed to command the Sergeant Major to raise his personal flag after outgoing Army chief Lieutenant General Noel Coballes’ flag was brought down.
“Sergeant Major, lower my flag,” Iriberri said instead before the audience.
Realizing his mistake after a few seconds, he corrected himself, “Raise the flag.”
The audience broke into laughter, including the VIP guests. The soldier then followed Iriberri’s orders: “Yes sir!”
Among the important guests were Aquino, Vice President Jejomar Binay, Gazmin and AFP chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista.
As new Army chief, Iriberri vowed to continue the programs of his predecessors. He promised to pursue the Army capability upgrade, which envisions a well-equipped Army with respectable image in Southeast Asia.
He also vowed to address personnel needs, equipment deficiencies and organizational improvements.
Iriberri also said he would look into upgrading the “competency levels” of the Army troops by upgrading and modernizing all training systems, facilities and institutions.
“With me at the helm, we will continue to make the Army trooper the pleasant face of the professional soldier our country deserves and the saving hand for anyone trapped or taken away by disaster,” he said.