Coballes assumes Westmincom post
MANILA, Philippines – Maj Gen Noel Coballes has vowed to pursue the killers of the 19 soldiers in Basilan, as well as the lawless groups that attacked police and military units in Zamboanga Sibugay in 2011.
Coballes, who formally assumed on Saturday, January 21, the post as commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), was the commander of the Philippine Army's First Infantry Division (1st ID), when at least 19 soldiers belonging to the elite unit of the Special Forces Battalion were killed. They perished in an encounter with heavily-armed rebels in Al-Barka, Basilan in October 2011.
Coballes took over from Lt Gen Raymundo Ferrer, who is retiring from military service on January 23.
Being an Army unit, the 1st ID had operational and administrative control of the Special Forces Battalion, along with the Special Operations Command (Socom).
As Westmincom chief, Coballes will command all AFP units in the Zamboanga Pensinsula, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
Among those present in the turnover ceremonies were ranking regional government, military and police officials, representatives of government agencies, and members of the US Armed Forces stationed in Western Mindanao.
“We will continue to neutralize the enemies, but with less casualties,” Coballes said during an interview after the program. “But we will also be supportive of the peace process with the MILF.”
AFP Chief Gen Jessie Dellosa, who was the ceremony's guest of honor, ordered the new Westmincom chief to continue nuetralizing the remnants of the Abu Sayyaf and other lawless groups operating in the region, particularly those responsible for the killing of the 19 soldiers.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was dragged into the blame game over the death of the troops in Basilan after the rebels admitted there was stiff resistance to soldiers sent to arrest Dan Asnawi. The latter was blamed for the beheading of 10 Marine soldiers in 2007 in the same town.
“We will continue to strengthen our ties with the community and other law enforcement agencies to carry out the all-out justice order of our Commander-In-Chief,” said Dellosa.
Coballes also said he will continue to implement the peace-building initiatives of his predecessor, proceed with the education of soldiers on human rights, and enhance the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Bayanihan program to respond to calamities and emergency situations. Recent disasters include Typhoon Sendong that hit Northern Mindanao in December 2011 and left about a thousand dead.
Ferrer, the former Westmincom chief, is a known staunch peace advocate in the AFP. His term was marred with controversies such as military operations resulting in a high number of casualties among the troops. This was accompanied by allegations of torture of suspected Abu Sayyaf members arrested in Basilan.
Ferrer said he is looking forward to spending more time with his family after vowing out of the military service. Being a an alumnus of the Bridging Leadership Fellows Program of the Asian Institute Management, Ferrer said he will continue to support his peace advocacy with non-government organizations. - Rappler.com