New Military Chief Vows to Rid Philippines of Militants, Protect Vote

Jojo Riñoza and Mark Navales
Bangkok
2021-11-12
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New Military Chief Vows to Rid Philippines of Militants, Protect Vote Lt. Gen. Andres Centino, the new Philippine military chief, gives a speech during a turnover ceremony at military headquarters in Manila, Nov. 12, 2021.
Handout photo/Armed Forces of the Philippines

The new Philippines military leader vowed on Friday to crush militant groups and secure a peaceful general election next year, as he took over command a day after what could be the first killing linked to the 2022 polls.

As many as 50 people were killed in violence around the 2016 presidential election, followed by 23 deaths during the congressional voting season in 2019, according to government statistics. The interior department has said it identified about 150 private armed groups linked to politicians – many of which operate in remote areas, including on the main southern island of Mindanao, a volatile region riddled with insurgent and militant groups.

The Philippines is fighting a long-time communist insurgency nationwide as well as Islamic extremist groups scattered across the south.

“To the remaining insurgents and terrorist groups in the country, let me emphasize that the national government is sincere and open to those who still want to return to the folds of the law,” said Lt. Gen. Andres Centino, the army chief, as he took over command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from Gen. Jose Faustino.

He also sent a blunt warning for those who resist.

“If you insist, the full wrath of the AFP will hit you hard to the brink of your extinction,” Centino said in a speech at the turnover ceremony at military headquarters in Manila. “We must unleash our full force for the final blow that will ultimately destroy and defeat the enemies of the state.” 

Centino, 54, becomes the 57th leader of the 150,000-strong military. 

Beyond addressing the threat groups, the military chief said immediate efforts would focus on safeguarding elections. 

President Rodrigo Duterte, who is constitutionally limited to a single, six-year term has promised to rid the Philippines of all enemy groups before he leaves office after the May 2022 vote. 

“It is the AFP’s duty that the will of the people is carried out,” Centino said. “Let us all support the government to ensure a fair, honest, peaceful and secure national elections.” 

Centino took command months before the May 9, 2022, general election to replace Duterte and fill 12 of the 24 seats in the Senate, all 316 House seats and thousands of official posts ranging from provincial governors to town mayors and councilors. 

A day earlier, the son of a candidate for mayor in the south and another man were shot and killed together. Police in Cagayan de Oro city, where the double homicide occurred on Thursday, said they were investigating the possibility that Roland Sherwin Uy, the son of mayoral candidate Roland Uy, was killed in connection with the upcoming polls, among other possible motives.

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Members of a private armed group show off their firepower somewhere in Maguindanao province, southern Philippines, Aug. 14, 2013. [Mark Navales/BenarNews]

A career officer, Centino graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1988 and obtained a master’s degree in national resource strategy at the National Defense University in Washington. 

“He has immense knowledge and experience in leading our troops on the ground and in supporting peaceful efforts to protect our people against various threats,” AFP spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala told reporters. 

“His integrity, management acumen, and genuine desire for peace and development make him a competent leader who shall guide the AFP in fulfilling its mission while supporting national efforts to battle the current pandemic,” he added.

Centino is expected to serve until February 2023 when he turns 56, the mandatory retirement age.

“We are confident that Gen. Centino will continue the initiatives of his predecessors to bring lasting peace and development in the country while securing the state and upgrading our defense capability,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement. 

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