His marching orders from the Commander-in-Chief were clear: Press on with reforms in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Recently named new AFP chief of staff by President Benigno Aquino 3rd, Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. has barely a year to do the job. He is due to retire in July 2015.
In his speech during turnover of leadership in the military on Friday, Aquino said he was confident that Catapang would successfully pursue the reforms started by outgoing AFP Chief of Staff Emmanuel “Manny” Bautista.
“Ngayong ikaw na ang nasa pinakamataas na posisyon sa AFP, mapaigting mo pa sana ang ugnayang napasimulan ni Manny sa pagitan ng ating mga unipormadong hanay at ng ating mga mamamayan [Now that you have the highest position in the AFP, may you continue to ignite the cooperation between the soldiers and the people that was started by your predecessor],” he added.
The President said Catapang is highly qualified to lead the AFP because he is known to be responsible, reliable and an “all-around” official, who has extensive knowledge in running the military.
With less than two years in office, he added, his administration has done a lot in putting the country’s bureaucracy in order, Aquino added.
The government, he noted, was able to go after corrupt officials and hold them accountable, expanded social services, strengthened the economy and started the process to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao.
And while there are individuals who will continue to oppose change, the President said, the government will always prevail as long as it serves the interest of the people.
In assuming the post of AFP chief of staff, Catapang vowed to continue with the government’s counter-insurgency program—the Internal Peace and Security Plan Bayanihan—which he said, is critical in facing current and future challenges.
“We shall ensure that we will not only win the peace but we will also help win progress and prosperity for our country and people,” he said.
“Furthermore, we shall institutionalize the AFP transformation road map so that our country will be prepared for the global challenges of the 21st century,” Catapang added
He asked members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to remain committed to peace while waiting for the Congress to pass the final agreement n the Bangsamoro.
Catapang urged those involved in the armed struggle to give up their fight in order to allow the country to move forward.
“I also ask the remaining NPA remnants who from a high of 24,000 members in the late 1980s have now dwindled and many of them have been returning back to the national mainstream,” he said, referring to the communist New People’s Army.
A former commanding general of the Northern Luzon Command, Catapang is a 1981 graduate of the Philippine Military Academy and classmate of Bautista.
He belonged to the Reform the Armed Forces Movement that plotted the revolt against then-strongman President Ferdinand Marcos. He was part of the Edsa rebel force that secured the Radio Veritas station in Quezon City that was used by mutinous units to broadcast their anti-Marcos propaganda. The 1986 revolt catapulted Corazon Aquino to the presidency.
Catapang is the 45th AFP chief of staff.
Meanwhile, the President commended Bautista for his stint as AFP chief, citing his humility, diligence and expertise.
He mentioned the difficulties Bautista had gone through, including the Sabah crisis, the Zamboanga siege, the kidnapping of peacekeepers in Golan Heights, the earthquake in Bohol and Cebu, and Typhoon Yolanda in the Visayas.
Aquino said he and Bautista worked closely together during those crises.
“Ilang beses siyang tinimbang, walang makakapsabing hindi siya nagtagumpay [He has been weighed many times, and no one could say he did not succeed],” he added.
During Friday’s turnover, Aquino conferred on Bautista the Presidential Legion of Honor with the degree of Chief Commander for his valuable and meritorious service to the country.