Philippine defense chief promises military promotions will be based on merit

Gerard Carreon
Philippine defense chief promises military promotions will be based on merit Philippine Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. talks to reporters as military chief Gen. Andres Centino listens during a command conference at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, Jan. 12, 2022.
Gerard Carreon/BenarNews

The Philippines’ new defense chief on Thursday sought to quash concerns about restiveness among the military ranks as he promised that promotions would be based on merit. 

In surprise moves that shook up the defense establishment’s top leadership over the past several days, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appointed Carlito Galvez Jr. as defense secretary, replacing Jose Faustino Jr., who had held the post in acting capacity and was expected to be appointed to the top job. Marcos also re-appointed Gen. Andres Centino as head of the armed forces, replacing Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro, who took the post five months ago.  

Officials in Marcos administration, which took office only six months ago, have yet to explain why these changes were made.

Still, the twin moves have sparked concerns within the ranks of the armed forces in the Philippines, a country with a long history of military efforts to overthrow governments since the president’s late father, dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, was toppled in a people-power uprising in 1986. 

“Imperative is personnel and operations readiness, particularly on the AFP morale and welfare of personnel, and meritocracy on designations and promotions,” Galvez told reporters, referring to the Armed Forces of the Philippines. “In the coming days, I will personally visit AFP commands and units to further discuss the department’s overall direction.”  

Galvez said his priority was to see that troops’ spirits stay strong as they face many challenges and as the military continues to modernize.

“As to what happened to Gen. Bacarro, I am not privy to that because it is a policy decision,” Galvez said when asked about the reason for a change in the military command.

Speculation about a destabilization plot swirled via military and police chat groups on social media after Bacarro was replaced as the AFP chief.

Bacarro, a recipient of the Medal of Valor, the highest military award in the Philippines, had replaced Centino – who was appointed by former President Rodrigo Duterte in November 2021.

Marcos swore in Centino as AFP chief Marcos on Friday and the changeover ceremony presided over by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin took place a day later.

Centino said it was the president’s prerogative to appoint the military chief.

“As soldiers we have to abide. When I relinquished the AFP last year, I accepted the order of the president and waited out for my retirement. And again when I was appointed, I just had to accept the order,” he said. 

Centino had been waiting to reach age 56, the mandatory retirement age, on Feb. 4. It is unclear if this appointment will allow him to serve past that date.

Faustino, who submitted his resignation as chief of the Department of National Defense (DND) on Friday, said that he learned of Centino’s reappointment and swearing-in through news and social media.  

In an editorial earlier this week, The Philippine Star noted that it has “been awhile since rumors of destabilization and military unrest circulated in this country,” adding that police were investigating the source of a leaked “purported memoranda” placing units on high alert because of “destabilization movements” in the military.

The editorial said the “alleged destabilization was caused by protest resignations linked to Centino’s appointment.

“If the destabilization rumor managed to gain some traction, it is partly because there is no clarity in the organizational changes in the AFP,” the Jan. 9 editorial stated. 

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. salutes with Philippine military chief Lt. Gen. Bartolome Vicente Bacarro before departing to Beijing, at the Villamor Air Base in Metro Manila, Jan. 3, 2023. Marcos later cut short the term of Bacarro. [Aaron Favila/AP]

Galvez, the new defense secretary, said there may be issues about the promotion of officers and assignment of military commanders, but these are being addressed by the Board of Generals and by the AFP chief. 

“There is no truth to unrest,” Galvez said. 

He described officials who attended a Thursday command conference involving defense and military leaders at Camp Aguinaldo, in Quezon City, and rank-and-file members of the military as happy. 

“We will make sure that meritocracy, inclusivity and a sense of fairness will always prevail in the professionalization of the armed forces,” Galvez said, adding that there was no place for squabbling. 

“We would like to announce that the AFP and DND are together to ensure the success of the Marcos administration,” Galvez said. 

The Philippines has had a long history of coup plots against the executive branch since 1986. 

When Corazon Aquino took power after the elder Marcos was ousted, she faced six coup attempts. In 2001, a military-backed popular revolt chased Joseph Estrada from office. His successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, faced down a revolt by junior military officers.


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