DAVAO CITY, Philippines – A retired Army general who for years dealt with the Moro conflict in Mindanao now heads a civilian office tasked to ensure the safety of this city, days after a tragic blast that claimed the lives of at least 14.
Benito de Leon, who retired from the Philippine Army this year, is the new chief of Davao City’s Public Safety and Security Command Center (PSSCC), Mayor Sara Duterte announced during the flag-raising ceremony at the city hall on Monday, September 5. (For latest updates on the Davao blast, check Rappler’s live blog)
“Gikan siya sa AFP (He’s from the AFP, Armed Forces of the Philippines), so let us welcome him to the civilian side. Let us give him a warm welcome in the local government unit of Davao,” Duterte, daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, said.
The PSSCC, created in 2012, is a division under the Office of the City Mayor. The command center was made to “provide protection, security, safety and risk management to the people of Davao City,” according to the city’s official website.
It has a wide-ranging array of responsibilities: crime, terrorism, security, traffic, health and social services, emergency services, and disaster risk reduction.
De Leon takes command amid efforts to identify and capture those behind the bombing.
At least 14 died and 70 were injured because of the blast. President Duterte subsequently placed the entire country under a “state of lawlessness.”
De Leon, who was handpicked by Mayor Duterte herself, replaced Emmanuel Jaldon.
“I will assess the concerns that need priorities and urgent actions [and] I will take off from there,” said De Leon.
A graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1981, De Leon spent time in the Davao region as former chief of staff of the Army’s 10th infantry division.
He once headed the 58th Infantry Battalion based in Lanao del Sur. In 2000, De Leon was given the honorary title of “Sultan a Romapunut” (leader of peace). He also once headed Task Force GenSan, which is based in General Santos City.
Before retiring in March 2016, De Leon was the AFP’s Inspector General. In 2015, he led a fact-finding committee that cleared Army soldiers from liability in a January 2015 clash that claimed the lives of more than 60 people, including 44 elite cops in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
His PMA mistahs (classmates) include former and current high-ranking officials in government – among them, former PNP chief Alan Purisima, interim PNP chief Leonardo Espina, former AFP chief Gregorio Catapang Jr., former AFP chief turned Cabinet Undersecretary Emmanuel Bautista, and former Defense undersecretary Natalio Ecarma.
But De Leon’s military career is not without its share of controversies. In 2012, he faced a plunder complaint for allegedly misusing military funds. A year later, the Ombudsman cleared De Leon of this complaint. – Rappler.com