MANILA, Philippines – The first marching order of President Benigno Aquino III to new Armed Forces chief Lieutenant General Hernando Iriberri hinted at a possible term extension for the general who is scheduled to retire at the height of the campaign for next year’s presidential elections.
“Alalahanin natin: Malapit na naman ang eleksiyon. Kasama sa inyong tungkulin ang pagsigurong magiging mapayapa at malinis ang pagpili ng ating mga kababayan ng susunod na pinuno. Sa ganitong paraan ninyo masusuklian ang suporta at pagkalingang ibinigay sa inyo ng mamamayang Pilipino, ang ating mga Boss,” Aquino said on Friday, July 10, during the change-of-command ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo.
(The election is near. Among your responsibilities is to make sure that the people will be able to choose their next leaders in a peaceful and clean elections.)
The President cited Iriberri’s performance as brigade commander in Abra during the 2013 senatorial and local elections. Under Iriberri’s watch, Aquino said the province – an election hot spot – was able to hold elections without a single barangay declaring failure of polling or reporting election-related violence.
But Iriberri will reach the retirement age of 56 in April 2016, a month before the May presidential race – a point raised by supporters of other contenders to the post.
Iriberri is the 6th chief of staff in the 5-year-old Aquino administration – proof that all military bosses had short-lived terms under the President.
Some policymakers have argued against the appointment of short-term chiefs of staff, saying this does not help institutionalize reforms in the Armed Forces. (READ: Fixed term for chief of staff: Why it’s needed)
There is no stopping the President, however, from extending Iriberri’s term. The AFP chief is not covered by the appointment ban during the election period.
Or he may yet again decide to name a new chief of staff who will outlast his term, which ends on June 30, 2016.
This happened in the case of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who appointed her loyalist General Delfin Bangit in 2010 to serve beyond her term as president.
But this created problems under Aquino; Bangit was the first Arroyo appointee to be forced out of government. Bangit initially fought to stay until his retirement age in July 2011. But he was eventually forced to retire early. He submitted his early retirement before Aquino’s inauguration on June 30, 2010.
No talk on extension
In his speech, Iriberri vowed that the 2016 polls will be among his priorities.
But Iriberri explained to reporters later that a possible extension of his term was not discussed with the President.
“Ang sinabi ko: We must start as early as now to pave the way for the credible and peaceful elections. Kahit ngayon mag-umpisa na kami. I-consider na sa aming mga operations yung paglatag para magkaroon tayo ng tahimik at credible na elections,” he said. (We should start preparations as early as now. We should already put the system in place to ensure peaceful and credible elections.)
“I am not insinuating that I will be extended,” Iriberri added.
He said he will also focus on fighting insurgency, implementing national policy, and upgrading the military’s capabilities.
Iriberri succeeded General Gregorio Catapang Jr who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on Saturday, July 11.
It was an appointment that was announced at the last minute, leaving Camp Aguinaldo still wondering hours before the change-of-command ceremony on who the next AFP chief was going to be.
Iriberri is a member of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) class of 1983.
He bested his mistah (PMA classmate) Lieutenant General Ricardo Visaya and 3 seniors – Air Force chief Lieutenant General Jeffrey Delgado, Western Command chief Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, and Central Command chief Lieutenant General Nicanor Vivar.
Delgado, who is retiring in March 2016, is a former aide of Aquino’s mother, the late President Corazon Aquino.
Visaya, retiring in December 2016, had the backing of field commanders.
Their supporters pushed for a strong lobby for them thus the uncertainty over Iriberri’s appointment – even if he was the choice hands down of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. (READ: Aquino, Gazmin ex-aides contenders for AFP chief)
The other contenders learned about Iriberri’s appointment Friday morning. – Rappler.com