Centino tells troops: Deal ‘final blow’ vs Reds to meet Duterte deadline
MANILA, Philippines—Newly-installed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Lt. Gen. Andres Centino rallied soldiers to meet President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadline to end the insurgency—before he steps down in 2022.
“Our commander-in-chief has entrusted to us a crucial responsibility—to end the local armed conflict before the end of his presidential term on 30 June
2022,” he said in his assumption speech on Friday (Nov. 12).
“We must unleash our full force for the final blow that will ultimately destroy and defeat the enemies of the state,” he said.
The Philippines has one of the world’s longest-running insurgency, with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army waging a guerrilla war for more than 50 years.
Centino said the military welcomes insurgents who want to return to the government fold, but warned rebels who would keep fighting that “the full wrath of the AFP will hit you hard to the brink of your extinction in the face of our society.”
Centino’s appointment came at the 11th hour, just before the change of command ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo. This was one of the rare instances that the choice of next AFP chief had not been announced publicly days ahead of the turnover of command.
The appointment letter signed by Duterte was dated November 12, the day of the ceremony, even if the shortlist of contenders had been forwarded to Malacañang several days before.
Printed copies of the event invitation did not include the name of the next military chief, either.
Duterte’s pre-recorded video message played at the event greeted only the outgoing AFP chief Gen. Jose Faustino Jr., with no mention or congratulatory message for his successor. The ceremony was presided over by Defense Undersecretary Cesar Yano as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was still overseas.
Three Army generals were in a tight contest for the post, according to military insiders: Centino, Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Bartolome Vicente Bacarro and Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Greg Almerol.
Centino’s appointment came at a crucial time with the May 2022 elections a few months away. In September, Duterte warned that he would tap the military to ensure free and orderly elections.
“Beyond the insurgency, there is also the task of safeguarding the upcoming elections, which are always a turning point for the country,” Centino said.
“It is the AFP’s duty to ensure that the will of the people is carried out,” he added.
The new AFP chief also stressed the importance of working with allies and partners amid evolving security challenges.
“These challenging times provide opportunities for us to build and strengthen our security and diplomatic ties with our Southeast Asian neighbors and with the rest of the world,” said Centino. “We have much to gain from engaging and collaborating with our partners,” he said.
Centino also vowed to be help assert Philippine sovereignty, without directly mentioning Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
He underscored the value of interoperability whether in dealing with the insurgency or other forms of national security threats.
Centino will retire in February 2023, which means he could be the last AFP chief under this administration.
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