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AFP chiefs of staff through the years

By Ramon J. Farolan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:31:00 01/10/2010

Filed Under: Military

ONE of the highlights of any visit to the AFP museum at Camp Aguinaldo would be the color portraits of the 39 generals who headed the Armed Forces during various stages of its history. The longest tour of duty was served by Gen. Romeo Espino, who was chief of staff from Jan. 15, 1972 to Aug. 15, 1981, a total of nine years and six months. The shortest was that of Gen. Benjamin Defensor, who served from Sept. 10, 2002 to Nov. 28, 2002, or just over two months.

* * *

First Philippine Republic:

At the Tejeros Convention in March 1897, Gen. Artemio Ricarte was elected captain general of the Filipino Revolutionary Army, a position which corresponds to the present office of AFP chief of staff. Ricarte, also known by his nom de guerre ?Vibora,? is hailed as the ?Father of the Philippine Army.? But he is best known for his refusal to take an oath of allegiance to the United States after the Philippine-American War ended.

Artemio Ricarte was succeeded by Gen. Antonio Luna, a brother of the noted painter Juan Luna. A graduate of Ateneo, UST and the Universidad Central de Madrid, Antonio Luna was arrested on suspicion of participating in the reform movement and exiled to Madrid.

Upon his return to the Philippines he was tapped by President Aguinaldo to carry out the establishment of the Academia Militar in Malolos and chose Guardia Civil Captain Manuel Sityar as its superintendent. Luna insisted on strict discipline over and above clan loyalties which alienated many of the troops whose loyalties were to officers from their provinces.

The Commonwealth Era (1935-1946):

Brig. Gen. Jose de los Reyes was a retired Filipino Constabulary officer who had risen through the ranks when President Manuel L. Quezon chose him to become chief of staff of the new Philippine Army. At the time of his appointment, he was head of the Secret Service of the Bureau of Customs.

After five months, Maj. Gen. Paulino Santos, Philippine Constabulary Academy (PCA) Class 1914, took over as chief of staff while serving as director of the Bureau of Prisons. A Medal of Valor awardee for heroic action against Moro outlaws in Lanao del Sur, Santos would earn the honor of having Dadiangas in South Cotabato renamed after him.

Maj. Gen. Basilio Valdez, a doctor by profession, succeeded Paulino Santos. During World War I, he joined the French Army as a medical volunteer, later transferring to the US Army and serving with the American Red Cross. Valdez would also serve as secretary of national defense and, later, secretary of public works in Quezon?s War Cabinet.

While De los Reyes, Santos and Valdez had good individual records, they were overshadowed by personalities like MacArthur, Eisenhower and their American staff officers who were part of a military mission to assist in the development of Philippine defense forces in light of the looming conflict with Japan.

The Third Republic:

Under President Manuel Roxas, first President of the Third Philippine Republic, Maj. Gen. Rafael Jalandoni, Class 1916, became AFP chief of staff. He would be replaced by Maj. Gen. Mariano Castañeda Sr., Class 1915, another Medal of Valor awardee for conspicuous gallantry in the line of duty. In 1947 he was seated behind President Roxas at a Plaza Miranda rally when a grenade was thrown at the stage. At great risk to his own life Castañeda kicked the grenade away, saving the President from harm. Castañeda was followed by Maj. Gen. Calixto Duque, Class 1917.

When Ramon Magsaysay defeated Elpidio Quirino in the 1953 elections, he appointed Jesus Vargas, Class 1929, as AFP chief of staff, promoting him from major general to lieutenant general (three stars). He would be succeeded by his classmate, Lt. Gen. Alfonso Arellano. Lt. Gen. Manuel Cabal, Class 1933, took over the top AFP post in January 1959 during the incumbency of President Carlos P. Garcia.

It was during the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal that an Air Force general was tapped to head the Armed Forces. Lt. Gen. Pelagio Cruz, Class of 1935, had earlier served as the first commanding general of the Philippine Air Force. After Cruz, Macapagal in another departure from previous practice chose a Reserve Officers Service School (ROSS) product, Alfredo Santos, as the AFP chief of staff, promoting him to full general, the first AFP chief to sport four stars. Santos was succeeded by Gen. Rigoberto Atienza, also a ROSS graduate. The 51st Engineering Brigade Headquarters in Libis, Quezon City is named Camp Gen. Rigoberto Atienza in his honor.

During the early Marcos years, Gen. Ernesto Mata, Class 1937, was called back from retirement to head the Armed Forces. He later served as secretary of national defense. Gen. Victor Osias, Class 1940, another PAF officer, would succeed him, followed by a classmate, Gen. Segundo Velasco.

Gen. Manuel Yan, Class 1941, served as head of the AFP from 1968 to 1972 and later, joined the foreign service as ambassador to Thailand, Indonesia and the United Kingdom.

The martial law years:

Not counting the short stint of Gen. Fidel V. Ramos as acting chief of staff, there were only two AFP chiefs during the long martial law period. Gen. Romeo Espino who served the longest in this post was followed by Gen. Fabian Ver. Both Espino and Ver belonged to the Vanguard Fraternity of the UP ROTC.

The Cory years:

After the Edsa Revolt, General Ramos served as AFP chief of staff up to January 1988 and was succeeded by Gen. Renato de Villa, PMA Class 1957. De Villa?s replacement was Marine Gen. Rodolfo Biazon, Class 1961. Gen. Lisandro Abadia, Class 1962, took over from Biazon.

The Ramos years:

Gen. Arturo Enrile, Class 1962, was FVR?s first appointment as chief of staff. Another Air Force officer, Gen. Arnulfo Acedera, Class 1963, took over from Enrile followed by Gen. Clemente Mariano, Class 1964, of the Philippine Army.

The Estrada years:

President Joseph Estrada during his short stint in office would appoint two AFP chiefs, Gen. Joselin Nazareno and Gen. Angelo Reyes, both members of Class 1966.

The Arroyo years:

In the nine years of the Arroyo presidency, the AFP has had 11 chiefs of staff. Gen. Angelo Reyes was a holdover from the Estrada administration. He was succeeded by Diomedio Villanueva, Class 1968; Roy Cimatu, Class 1970; Benjamin Defensor, Class 1969; Dionisio Santiago, Class 1970; Narciso Abaya, Class 1971 (USMA); Efren Abu, Class 1972; Generoso Senga, Class 1972; Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Class 1974; Alexander Yano, Class 1976; and Victor Ibrado, also of Class 1976.

It is time for an AFP chief of staff to serve with a fixed term of at least three years.

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