“Make sure that the elections will be peaceful and orderly.”
President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Friday gave this direct marching order to Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri, the new chief of staff of the country’s Armed Forces, who assumed command on the same day in wake of he mandatory retirement of Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr.
Speaking in ceremonies at the military’s main headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, the President said it is the obligation of the military and the police to ensure the integrity of the 2016 elections and allow Filipinos to vote freely.
“Alalahanin natin, malapit na naman ang eleksiyon. Kasama sa inyong tungkulin ang pagsigurong magiging mapayapa at malinis ang pagpili ng ating mga kababayan ng susunod na pinuno [Let us remember, the elections are drawing near. It is part of your mandate to make sure that the elections will be peaceful and orderly],” Aquino noted in his speech.
“Sa ganitong paraan ninyo masusuklian ang suporta at pagkalingang ibinigay sa inyo ng mamamayang Pilipino, ang ating mga boss [This will be your way of paying back the support and concern given to you by the Filipino people, our bosses],” he said.
President Aquino also challenged Iriberri to continue what his predecessor started in the military.
In his speech, Aquino was all praises for the new military chief of staff, who prior to his appointment, was the commanding general of the Philippine Army.
The President said that according to Iriberri’s colleagues, he has a “very good” mark whether on mission, training and exercises.
“ Even during the time when he was still a platoon leader, his troops never had casualties when he’s the one leading the operations,” Aquino added in Filipino.
He commended Iriberri for ensuring the holding of peaceful elections in “hot spot” Abra where his Army brigade was assigned in the 2013 polls.
“Under their watch and for the first time, there was no failure of elections declared in Abra and no election-related violence,” the President said.
The President also directed Iriberri to continue the reforms his predecessors started.
“Lt. Gen. Iriberri, ito ang hamon sa iyo ngayon: Ipagpatuloy ang magandang nasimulan ni Gen. Catapang at ng mga nauna sa kanya, at lalo pang itaas ang kalidad ng serbisyo ng ating mga kawal [This is your challenge: Continue the reforms and initiatives made by Gen. Catapang and his predecessors and further improve the quality of service given by our soldiers],” Aquino said.
Aquino was also all praises for Catapang.
He particularly commended Catapang for leading operations to neutralize high-profile targets, including Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) leader Abdul Basit Usman.
He also cited Catapang’s leadership of the Armed Forces after the infamous Mamasapano incident, which left 60 people dead, including 44 police commandos.
The incident caused a rift between the military and the Philippine National Police, after some police officials blamed the military for not helping besieged members of the Special Action Force.
“When the nation was mourning the loss of our gallant policemen, he made sure that the relationship between the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines would remain intact,” the President said in Filipino.
He also credited Catapang for the “greatest escape” of Filipino peacekeepers from Syrian rebels who were cornered in the Golan Heights in 2014.
In his speech after assuming command, Iriberri identified his five priorities — winning the peace, sustaining military transformation, implementing national policies, ensuring peaceful 2016 polls and upgrading military capabilities.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI