Philippine Military Chief Gets Fourth Star

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
2020.10.07
Cotabato, Philippines
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201007-PH-military-620.jpg Gen. Gilbert Gapay prepares to receive his fourth star as commanding general of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in Manila, Oct. 7, 2020.
[Handout/Armed Forces of the Philippines]

The Philippine military chief vowed to protect the country from threats including Islamic State militants in the south as he was elevated to the rank of full general Wednesday, making him the country’s highest-ranking military officer.

Gen. Gilbert Gapay’s promotion to four-star general during a ceremony in Manila was expected after he was appointed to head the 125,000-strong Armed Forces of the Philippines in August. The elevation to the rank of general from lieutenant general is standard for anyone who occupies the country’s top military post. Before his appointment, Gapay had served as army chief since December 2019.

“We remain dedicated to the performance of our mandate. This achievement is a realization of not only the sacrifices which we have already made, but also of the obligations we have yet to fulfill for our country and its people,” he said Wednesday.

“I am hopeful that the military will continue working collectively to provide a secure and peaceful environment for every Filipino,” said Gapay, who graduated at the top of the 1986 class from the elite Philippine Military Academy.

Gapay also said that his top priority as military chief would be to crush Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf militants and other terror groups operating in the country.

He said that 55 Abu Sayyaf members were killed from January to September this year – 15 of them in clashes in September – while 17 had surrendered. In the same period, at least 28 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) fighters were killed, 134 surrendered and 20 were captured, he said.

The armed forces will “sustain their momentum against the terror group ASG [Abu Sayyaf] and other local terrorist groups,” Gapay said.

“We will not tolerate any attempt to sow violent ideologies and will make use of all available technologies to put an end to the spread of violent extremism.”

Apart from the Abu Sayyaf Group, Gapay said the military was also targeting other extremist groups linked with Islamic State (IS) such as BIFF and surviving militants from the Maute Group who took over the southern city of Marawi for five months in 2017. The takeover by pro-IS militants unleashed a five-month battle with government forces that left more than 1,200 combatants and civilians dead.

“These local terrorists who operate in the south continue to embrace the Daesh narrative and assimilate its barbarism in the guise of religion,” Gapay said, using another name for IS.

“But the peace-loving Filipinos already reject this Daesh violence and have extended their full support to the government and the AFP in its fight against terrorists.”

Gapay, 55, took over as armed forces chief at a time when the country is facing numerous challenges from extremist groups.

In August, two female suicide bombers deployed by the Abu Sayyaf left 15 people dead in the southern Jolo Island, more than a year after an Indonesian couple blew themselves in the same area, killing 23.

Abu Sayyaf militants last week killed one of five Indonesian fishermen they had abducted in January, and security forces have begun a manhunt in the far south to retrieve the four others.

Security forces are also on the hunt for Abu Sayyaf militants in the south, including a faction loyal to the IS led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who is believed to be working with foreign suicide bombers.

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