The soldier-son of a general treacherously killed by Moro separatist rebels in the infamous massacre at Patikul, Sulu province, in October 1977 is taking over as new chief of the Philippine Army.
The youngest among 11 generals considered for the post, Major General Emmanuel Bautista, 53, formally assumes command of the 80,000-strong Army in ceremonies at Fort Bonifacio Wednesday.
He was a freshman cadet at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) when his father, Brigadier General Teodulfo Bautista, and 33 other officers and men were gunned down by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels in Patikul on Oct. 10, 1977.
An MNLF commander, Usman Sali, had lured the elder Bautista into a meeting in Patikul with a promise to talk about a ceasefire. To show his goodwill, the late general arrived for the meeting unarmed. He was shot to death.
Only one soldier survived the massacre.
When Emmanuel graduated from the PMA in 1981—the seventh out of 161 in his class—he readily asked to be assigned in Sulu with the 1st Infantry Division, the unit his father commanded before his death.
But his request was denied and, as a compromise, was assigned to another province in Muslim Mindanao—Lanao del Norte.
In his military career, the young Bautista had been assigned to various posts around the country—but never in Sulu.
Peace an Aquino concern
Achieving peace with rebels appears to be a factor in Bautista’s appointment by President Benigno Aquino III as new Army chief.
Announcing Mr. Aquino’s choice Tuesday, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President expected Bautista to reorient the Army into “a force for the maintenance of peace.”
“(Bautista’s) record has been exemplary, both in the field and in staff positions. Bautista has been decorated seven times in combat,” Valte told reporters.
“Most notably, in his staffwork as J3 (deputy chief of staff for operations), Major General Bautista was primarily responsible for the formulation of the internal peace and security plan ‘Bayanihan,’” Valte said.
Blueprint to win peace
Bautista shepherded the development of the plan from its conceptualization to implementation, according to Valte.
“The plan involves innovative approaches and paradigm shifts and is now the blueprint of the AFP in winning the peace,” she said.
Valte said the President believed Bautista would pursue the reforms “while orienting the Army to be a force for the maintenance of peace.”
The military says Oplan Bayanihan shifts the focus of the counterinsurgency strategy from traditional combat operations to “developmental activities,” while also giving attention to human rights concerns.
Need for peace
“We have been fighting for too long. Too many have died. The statistics include my father. How many more will suffer?” Bautista said in an interview with the Inquirer in April. “We have an obligation to really win the peace because we owe it to those who came before us, like my father. We owe it to our people, we owe it to ourselves.”
“My own father was killed trying to reach out. If I am able to overcome it, who can contest me?” he said then.
In a statement, the Army described Bautista as a “seasoned combat officer who once served in the front lines as a Scout Ranger” and is a “well-rounded officer.”
“The Philippine Army welcomes the appointment of a highly respected and credible officer, General Bautista. His vast experience as a frontline leader and as a staff officer in all levels of command will surely make the difference,” said the Army spokesperson, Major Harold Cabunoc.
Youngest of the group
Bautista was the youngest of the generals who were considered to succeed Lieutenant General Arturo Ortiz, the retiring Army chief.
Most of the current infantry division commanders were his upperclassmen in the PMA, except for Brigadier General Rey Ardo, 6th ID commander, who was his classmate in PMA.
Before he was named Army chief, Bautista had been commander of the 3rd Infantry Division based in Capiz province but for only a little over six months.
He, however, did not see his being a junior officer as an issue, pointing out that there had been many instances when officers surpassed their upperclassmen in terms of assignments.
“But the Army is a professional organization. We have come a long way and we follow the chain of command. This is nothing new to the Army,” Bautista said in a brief interview Tuesday.
“It’s an honor to have been designated as commanding general. It is an opportunity and I take it as a challenge to do good for the Army,” he added.
The only way
Bautista’s appointment came amid calls for an all-out war against Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels following the killing of 19 soldiers last month in Al-Barka, Basilan.
As deputy chief of staff for operations, Bautista spearheaded the crafting of the administration’s Bayanihan strategy.
As far as military operations go, Bayanihan calls for a paradigm shift to focus on a “people-centered approach” while recognizing that fighting insurgency is not just a military concern but calls for a “whole of nation approach.”
The concept impresses on soldiers that peace talks with communist and separatist rebels are the only way to end the conflict.
Communist rebels, however, see Bayanihan as no different from the Arroyo administration’s Oplan Bantay Laya, which they blamed for the killing of unarmed militants.
Acts of heroism
As a lieutenant, Bautista served in Mindanao as a platoon leader of the 26th Infantry Battalion from 1981 to 1983. He also saw action in the Visayas as the leader of the 7th Scout Ranger Company from 1987 to 1989.
He distinguished himself as the commander of the 702nd Infantry Brigade of the 7th Infantry Division, which cleared areas in Central Luzon of communist influence from 2008 to 2009.
He has earned a Gold Cross medal for gallantry in action, the third highest military combat award, and 25 Military Merit Medals for, among others, acts of heroism in combat.
He has also received administrative awards for meritorious performance of duty, such as the Distinguished Service Star and Outstanding Achievement Medals.
Bautista finished at the top of his class in the Scout Ranger Course, Infantry Officer Advance Course and the Army Command and General Staff Course.
He was also a graduate of a war fighting course at the Joint Forces Staff College in Virginia, USA, and a tactics course in New Zealand. He has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of the Philippines.
Bautista is married to Bernardita Pardo, daughter of a former Supreme Court associate justice, and they have a son.
Originally posted: 2:36 pm | Tuesday, November 8th, 2011