Marcos names Marawi war veteran new Philippine military chief

Jason Gutierrez
Marcos names Marawi war veteran new Philippine military chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., Army commander, speaks with members of the foreign media in Manila, Feb. 15, 2023.
[Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews]

The Philippine president on Wednesday appointed as the new military chief a general who had helped stabilize the southern city of Marawi, which Islamic militants seized in 2017 before government forces routed them in a five-month battle.

Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., 55, who is currently the Army commander, will replace Gen. Andres Centino, who was appointed presidential adviser on the West Philippine Sea, the Presidential Communications Office said. 

The West Philippine Sea is Manila’s name for South China Sea waters within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Brawner “exemplified the highest levels of excellence in his military schoolings,” Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil said, according to the state-run Philippine News Agency.

Brawner takes over at a time of persistent challenges to the country’s borders from Beijing in the disputed South China Sea.

Just a week before the seventh anniversary of a landmark international arbitration ruling that dismissed Beijing’s expansive claims to the sea, Manila accused China of harassing its ships in the waterway. 

In February, the Philippines protested a similar incident when the Chinese Coast Guard pointed a laser at one of its coast guard ships, causing temporary blindness to its crew. 

China has continued to ignore the ruling. Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea including territories within the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

In February, Brawner said that the Philippine Army had shifted its focus to territorial defense from internal security, fueled by China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea. Troops, he said then, required a change of mindset to focus on an external enemy from fighting southern insurgents and communists.

“There is a common theme among armies around the world: wars will be fought on land so we have to be prepared,” Brawner said at the time.

A Special Forces commando, Brawner had served in various capacities in the southern Philippines, fighting against communist and Muslim insurgents. 

He was the commander of the army division that carried out an operation that killed Jorge Madlos, a long-time senior commander of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the south. 

Brawner was also one of the top military officials and tacticians on the ground during the 2017 siege of Marawi by Islamic State group militants. 

He subsequently led an infantry division that went after their remnants in Mindanao, and that killed Owayda Marohombsar (also known as Abu Dar), one of the senior IS leaders who escaped from Marawi, in 2019.

Jojo Riñoza in Manila contributed to this report.


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