Returning AFP chief tells troops: Stop ‘squabbling’
MANILA, Philippines — Gen. Andres Centino, the reappointed chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, called on the military to stop the division and “squabbling” in the ranks as he assumed the highest post in the AFP for the second time on Saturday.
He replaced his military academy classmate Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro, who took over as the country’s top military commander when he was unceremoniously booted out and left in a “floating” status by President Marcos five months earlier.
Neither the President nor Department of Defense officer in charge Gen. Jose Faustino Jr. attended the unconventional change of command ceremony.
The nontraditional rite was held indoors, inside the Tejeros Hall of the AFP Commissioned Officers Club House, instead of the AFP Grandstand. It was over in less than an hour.
Journalists were not allowed to cover the event, which was attended by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, who presided over the ceremony, and Special Assistant to the President Anton Lagdameo Jr.
The program was live-streamed on government channels online.
Fixed three-year term
In his speech, Centino said there should be “professionalism and meritocracy” in the AFP and defended the objectives of Republic Act No. 11709, a law enacted by former President Rodrigo Duterte in April last year that, among others, set a fixed term of three years for eight of the most senior AFP officers, including the chief of staff and the commanders of the Army, Air Force and Navy.
“And as we strive to put this law into effect, we as an organization cannot afford to remain or to be divided, and squabbling on how its interpretation stands to benefit one over the other, and lose focus on what is best for the Armed Forces as a whole,” Centino said.
“Therefore, to implement this law, the [AFP] needs strong and determined leaders capable of steering the organization in the direction of stabilizing unity, and ushering in a truly modern and professional Armed Forces,” he added.
Ping: He makes history
The 143,000-strong military should focus on complying with the most urgent tasks at hand, he said.
“We must ensure that all our resources are employed to definitively address all the current and emerging threats,” Centino said.Commenting on Centino’s reappointment, former Philippine National Police chief and ex-Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson said on Twitter that the chief of staff “makes history by getting appointed to the top AFP post by the same Commander in Chief who removed him.”
Day of rumors
“Both unprecedented and a welcome development, justice is done to a truly deserving officer by a President who is willing to rectify an error when it is the right thing to do,” he added
But rumors of protest resignations by a number of military and defense officials against Bacarro’s removal and Centino’s return to his post had been circulating prior to the President’s decision.
This was fueled by leaked memoranda from at least two regional PNP offices placing all police units, including the Special Action Force (SAF), under the highest state of alert on Saturday “due to destablization movements from the AFP.”
SAF battalions were ordered to “ensure the operational readiness of our personnel and equipment, particularly in dealing with the said situation when need arises, and be ready to move upon the orders of proper authorities,” the memos said.
Photos and videos of PNP armored personnel carriers (APC) on standby at Camp Crame on Saturday were shared by some police personnel with journalists.AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar denied the alleged destablization plot and that the AFP was assuring the public that “everything is normal.”
“The movements of PNP assets are part of the simulation exercises in preparation for the Feast of the Black Nazarene,” he said in a statement on Saturday night. “Rest assured that the AFP, in coordination with other government security forces, will always be on guard to protect you from all threat groups.”At Camp Crame, PNP spokesperson Police Col. Jean Fajardo said the police received no reports of a destabilization plot.
She said the PNP was just on “heightened” alert as part of the security preparations for the annual Black Nazarene festivities starting Friday in Manila, which attracts more than a million devotees. The “traslacion,” or procession of the image of the Black Nazarene, was again canceled this year by church authorities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.Fajardo, however, confirmed the presence of APCs at the national police headquarters, but said these were also for the festivities and was part of the “regular practice” of the PNP to move the armored vehicles once or twice a week to ensure their readiness for deployment.
According to Fajardo, they were “checking” the sources of the memos and messages supposedly coming from PNP units.
“We will also remind our commanders to be careful in dealing with these kinds of information, as these could be prone to misinterpretation by the public,” she said without confirming or denying that the memos were authentic.
A first since Edsa
When Mr. Marcos appointed Bacarro as AFP chief in August, Centino was sidelined and put on floating status, awaiting his retirement when he reaches the mandatory age of 56 on Feb. 4. Both Centino and Bacarro belong to Class 1988 of the Philippine Military Academy.
That was the first time since the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution that an incumbent AFP chief was replaced before his retirement.
Before his reappointment, Centino was named as the country’s next ambassador to India in November, awaiting confirmation by the Commission on Appointments.
Bacarro, a Medal of Valor awardee, who should have retired in September last year, could have been the first AFP chief of staff to serve a fixed three-year term under RA 11709.
It is still unclear whether Centino would serve the full three years of a chief of staff.
With Centino’s reappointment, Bacarro was forced to retire. But he may be appointed to a government post.
“As far as Lt. Gen. Bacarro is concerned, I don’t think that this is going to be the end of his public life,” Bersamin said during the change of command ceremony.
“We are going to give true value to your achievements. And we will always remember your service and sacrifices for the country,” he said.