President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered incoming Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Noel Clement to continue the government’s fight against communist insurgency, Malacañang said on Friday.
Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo made the statement as he confirmed the appointment of Clement as the next AFP chief of staff.
“One of the marching orders of the President is to continue the government’s goal to end the local communist armed conflict — a task that is not new to General Clement as he previously headed the AFP Central Command, led the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division (10th ID) and served as the deputy chief of staff for operations of the AFP, among others,” Panelo said in a statement.
“The Palace is confident that with General Clement at the helm of the AFP, he will continue to uphold the high degree of professionalism, the dedication and the integrity our soldiers have displayed to the flag and country,” he added.
The sixth chief of staff to be appointed by Duterte in only three years, Clement is scheduled to retire in four months or January 2020.
Clement replaces Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on September 28.
Both Clement and Madrigal belong to the same class at the Philippine Military Academy — Class 1985 or the Sandiwa class.
Clement said he was honored to be handpicked by Duterte in leading the Armed Forces, vowing to bring everyone in fighting the communist insurgency, which the military thinks has been infiltrating several sectors such as the academe.
“It has to be the whole country, the whole nation [that should also join us]. This is a national problem, so we have to address this as a people, collectively, so there will be peace in our country,” he told reporters.
“I think I will have to engage more sectors so there will be more of us fighting and have this problem resolved faster,” Clement said.
Clement was among the tagged military officers in the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos in 2007.
But the incoming AFP chief said it was already a “very old issue.” He was not the first soldier accused in Burgos’ disappearance since retired general and now Interior
Secretary Eduardo Año had been appointed to head the military in 2016.
He was a battalion commander from the time Burgos disappeared at a mall in Quezon City.
“I will not honor them by answering that, so if they want to make that an issue, that is their problem. They should prove if there is factuality on that case [that I was involved], but I will not explain to them,” he said.
“I have been faithful in my service to our country and I have not been involved in any of those activities,” Clement added.
Aside from communist insurgency, the military is also being bugged by problems concerning local terrorism, among them the presence of the Islamic State in the country and territorial defense, which involves a maritime dispute in the South China (West Philippine) Sea.
Clement said “some” of the problems, such as the territorial matters, were already considered as “continuing programs” of the Philippine military.
“They are continuing programs and some of them are going to take [on a] long-term (approach), like the territorial defense, we still have to develop our capabilities, so we need to continue our modernization program to address this,” he added.
WITH DEMPSEY REYES