Young general is new Army chief

MANILA, Philippines – President Aquino has chosen a fast-rising young general as the new commanding general of the Philippine Army, resisting last-minute attempts to make him name a more senior one.

Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, commander of the Army’s 3rd infantry division in Capiz, will be replacing Army chief Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz, who reaches the  mandatory age of 56 on Nov. 13. The turn-over of command will be on Wednesday, Nov. 9.

Two senior government officials told us that President Aquino made the decision on the 53-year-old Bautista as early as two weeks ago. (Malacanang made the announcement today, Nov. 8).

A 1981 graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Bautista effectively bypassed two PMA Classes in this appointment, Class 1979 and 1980, most of whom command the Army’s divisions and general staffs. (He is retiring in July 2014 yet.)

Class ’79 include Ortiz and Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr., who himself is retiring on Dec. 13. As the ruling class in the military, they wanted to push their own to be the Army boss.

Last week, the camps were abuzz with rumors that the President’s choice to be the next chief of staff –Lt. Gen. Jessie Dellosa– will be made the Army commander instead. This was apparently a compromise that the ’79 generals presented to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin: Dellosa becomes Army chief and the President could then pick from two other ’79 members to become chief of staff, either Navy chief Rear Admiral Alexander Pama or Armed Forces deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara.

Sought for comment on this last Friday, a senior government official told us, “Yes, there’s lobbying. But his (the President’s) decision so far remains firm.”

Dellosa next CS?

Bautista’s appointment also means that Dellosa, who had served under the Presidential Security Group of the late former President Corazon Aquino, will be the next chief of staff in December. Dellosa at present is the commander of the Northern Luzon Command.

Bautista commands the Army at a crucial time. The 70,000-strong fighting force is still nursing its ego over a humiliating debacle in Basilan and struggling to accept a complicated peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

There were 4 factors going for Bautista in this tight race.

He is already a two-star general commanding a division of 5,000 men. He was among the six generals interviewed by President Aquino when the latter was choosing the replacement for then AFP chief of staff Ricardo David (he eventually picked Eduardo Oban Jr.; for more on this, read http://www.newsbreak.ph/2011/02/28/end-revolving-door-pnoy/). He is closely associated with Gazmin (Bautista was a platoon leader in 1981 in a battalion then commanded by Gazmin).

 

Dad was slain, too

And he has a life story that resonates with the President. The Army camp in Sulu is named after his slain father, the late Brig. Gen. Teodulfo Bautista.

The older Bautista was killed by members of the Moro National Liberation Front in 1977, when he chose to meet with them–unarmed–in Patikul, Sulu, to discuss a possible ceasefire.

At the time, his son was on his second year at PMA, scheduled to graduate in 1980. But the young Bautista’s entire batch was suspended for a year over hazing, thus he graduated in 1981. (He graduated No. 7 in a class of 161.)

Bautista finished his advanced courses on Scout Ranger and Command and General Staff on top his class. He spent his field commands, as battalion and later brigade commander, in Central Luzon.

Prior to his appointment in the 3rd infantry division in Iloilo, Bautista served as chief of operations of the Armed Forces (J3), where he drafted the “Bayanihan” Internal Peace and Security Plan that focuses on civil-military operations. At one point, he also served as J5 of the Armed Forces, in charge of plans and programs.

Bautista’s exposure to planning and managing operations is something that his civilian bosses appreciate but some of his military peers don’t.

Especially at this time when the Army is on war footing again, some would prefer a swashbuckling commander who speaks the language of war, which Bautista isn’t.

Then again, that’s probably why he was chosen. 

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