AFP revolving door swings into action

Easily the most famous door in the land is the one that leads to the office of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) chief of staff. It rotates with increasing regularity once a year to welcome the new occupant and just as he begins to warm his chair, the guessing game as to who will replace him starts immediately. My parish priest, the head of our barangay, and the chief of the local police force, stay at their posts longer than the commander of the 125,000-strong AFP, the organization tasked with the mission to defend the people and to guarantee our territorial integrity. But of the officials just mentioned, none is installed with more pomp, more color and ceremony, than the AFP chief of staff.

Last Friday, in Camp Aguinaldo, in rituals that may have lost some of their luster and meaning because of the frequency of similar events, the 44th, or maybe the 45th, AFP chief was ushered into office as his predecessor bade the troops farewell.


As a reminder for the Filipino people, this is the AFP chief of staff’s longevity record for the last 14 years under two presidents:

President Gloria M. Arroyo:


AFP Chief of Staff Length of service as AFP Chief

Diomedes Villanueva: One year, three months

Roy Cimatu: Four months

Benjamin Defensor: Three months

Dionisio Santiago: Four months

Narciso Abaya: One year, seven months

Efren Abu: Ten months


Generoso Senga: Eleven months

Hermogenes Esperon: One year, ten months

Alexander Yano: One year

Victor Ibrado: Ten months

Delfin Bangit: Three months

President Benigno Aquino III:

Ricardo David: Eight months

Eduardo Oban: Ten months

Jessie Dellosa: Thirteen months

Emmanuel Bautista: One year, six months

Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. (Incumbent) Thirteen months (estimated)

The latest addition to the list is Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., a classmate of Gen. Emmanuel Bautista. Both are members of PMA class 1981.

An Inquirer story on the new AFP chief cites him as a “climate change buff” who believes that the greatest danger to the country is not the armed threat but “climate change and the disaster it brings.”  With the limited resources at his disposal and with only 12 months on the job, he may not be able to do much about the problem. Catapang retires on July 11, 2015, and the gossip now centers on who will succeed him. The line forms to the right.

Notes on the “change of command” ceremony.

• The three main speakers of the day—the outgoing chief, General Bautista, his replacement, General Catapang, and the guest of honor, President Aquino—spent  much time acknowledging the presence of so many officials and groups; almost every Juan de la Cruz in the bureaucracy was mentioned. I realize that is part of the culture, but we tend to overdo things and, perhaps, a simple line (“distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen”) should suffice to cover all those who believe in the importance of their presence.

• In remarks after signing his assumption orders, General Catapang lavished praise on his predecessor. In good humor, when it was Bautista’s turn at the podium, he started his speech by saying “after General Catapang’s remarks, I have nothing more to say.”

• It is not very often that a member of the same class turns over command of the AFP to a batch mate. In the history of the organization, this has happened only seven times.

1. In 1956, Lt. Gen. Alfonso Arellano received the command sabre from Lt. Gen. Jesus Vargas. Both belong to class 1929. The president was Ramon Magsaysay.

2. In  1967, Lt. Gen. Segundo Velasco succeeded Lt. Gen. Victor Osias. Both are members of class 1940. Ferdinand Marcos was the commander in chief.

3. In 1994, Gen. Arturo Enrile succeeded Gen. Lisandro Abadia, both members of class 1962. The commander in chief was Fidel V. Ramos. Incidentally, Enrile’s services were extended beyond age 56  on the basis of the legal opinions of the presidential legal counsel and the justice secretary.

4. In 2005, Gen. Efren Abu passed on the command sabre to Gen. Generoso Senga. Both are members of class 1972. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was the chief executive.

5. In 2009, Gen. Victor Ibrado succeeded Gen. Alexander Yano. Both belong to class 1976. Gloria Arroyo was the president.

6. In 2011, the command sabre passed from Gen. Eduardo Oban to Gen. Jessie Dellosa, both members of class 1979. President Aquino presided over this turnover.

7. Last week, Generals Bautista and Catapang went through the same rituals, with President Aquino also presiding.

Does this mean that certain classes have more brainpower in their membership than others? I can almost hear the howls of protest from classes who have not been favored similarly.

Perhaps, it is a measure of General Bautista’s standing in the foreign community that so many ambassadors attended his retirement ceremony. I have been witness to many of these events and the number of foreign envoys who troop to Camp Aguinaldo on such occasions can be counted on the fingers of one hand. According to the President, he is giving Bautista a monthlong vacation before his talents are once against harnessed in government service.  This is presidential recognition for “Manny Sundalo” who has made service to the nation a lifelong career.

* * *

Gen. Manuel Mariano and Lolit recently marked their 50th wedding anniversary with a gathering of classmates and close friends at the Camp Aguinaldo Officers Club.

Manny Mariano is the author of the book “The Power of Reform”—a work that received much praise from various leaders of society. In awarding the Philippine Legion of Honor with rank of Commander to General Mariano, President Corazon C. Aquino commended him for the reforms that he instituted during his incumbency as head of AFP LogCom.

On Saturday, July 26, former congressman and Mrs.  Plaridel Abaya will be celebrating their golden anniversary at the Manila Cathedral with His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle officiating. Del Abaya belongs to PMA class 1959. His son, Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya is a graduate of the US Naval Academy, class of 1988.

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