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MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday, January 17, ordered the military to ensure honest and clean elections in May and continue its frontline efforts during disasters.
In a speech at the assumption of Lt Gen Emmanuel Bautista as the next chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the President said it is the obligation of the military and the police to ensure the integrity of the May 13 elections and allow Filipinos to vote freely. "Ang hamon ko po sa inyo: ang AFP, kasama ng ating kapulisan, ang may obligasyon na siguruhing maidaraos nang mapayapa at may integridad ang darating na halalan. Nais nating mangibabaw ang boses ng bayan, at hindi ito mabusalan ng armas, takot, at karahasan…Pangalagaan ninyo ang karapatan ng mamamayan na malayang makapili ng kanilang mga pinuno. Ang gusto natin: tapat, patas, at naaayon sa batas ang darating na eleksyon mula sa kampanya hanggang sa proklamasyon ng mga bagong pinuno."
Bautista, former Army chief, is replacing Gen Jessie Dellosa, who reaches the retirement age of 56 on January 20.
Aquino said that while the road to peace is set as far as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is concerned, the bigger challenge for the military is to continue being at the forefront of rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts during disasters. In the audience was Lt Gen Jorge Segovia, commander of the government's task force for victims of Typhoon Pablo, which hit Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental in December 2012. Segovia has just announced the shift of focus in these provinces -- from rescue and relief to rebuilding.
Aquino told the soldiers gathered at Camp Aguinaldo: "Kinailangan din ninyong tumugon sa hamon ng mga—ulitin ko po—sa hamon ng mga sakuna: Alam naman po nating kabilang ang inyong hanay sa mga frontliner sa tuwing darating ang kalamidad, handang rumeresponde upang ilayo sa peligro ang ating mga kababayan."
The new chief of staff echoed this statement, noting that the military has to adapt to new roles, especially in dealing with the consequences of climate change.
Bautista asked soldiers and civilians to work toward ending the cycle of conflict in the country. This will allow the military to focus on its duty to defend the country from external threats and assist in natural disasters, he said.
A 1981 graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, Bautista retires in July 2014 -- the longest-serving chief of staff under the Aquino administration.
Aquino has already appointed 4 chiefs of staff in his 3 years in office, including Bautista. That's a lot considering recommendations by policymakers that to sustain reform efforts, the military needs commanders who serve for a longer period.
Like his predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the President appointed short-lived chiefs of staff in the past, including two generals who only served for 9 months in each term - Ricardo David and Eduardo Oban Jr.
Dellosa, on the other hand, served for 13 months. - Rappler.com