Surprise appointment for AFP chief contender

MANILA, Philippines – His appointment as Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) vice chief of staff was a complete surprise because months ago, many thought he would be the AFP's next big boss. 

Lieutenant General Gregorio Catapang Jr assumed the post on Thursday, May 22, succeeding Lieutenant General Allan Luga who retired on May 12. Both belong to the Philippine Military Academy Class 1981.

The new appointment makes Catapang, the former Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom), the Number 2 of the 125,000-strong Philippine military.

It is an administrative position. It is different from his former post where he had under his operational command two divisions, one naval station, and an air base:

Slimmer chances

His appointment doesn't preclude his possible nomination to succeed AFP chief General Emmanuel Bautista but the new appointment now casts doubt on his chances. In the past, former AFP chiefs of staff came from major service commands.

For instance, prior to his appointment as AFP chief, Bautista was former army commanding general. Part of PMA Class 1981, he will retire in two months, on July 20.

By the end of the year, the AFP top brass will have a new composition. (READ Shake up: AFP top brass retiring this year)

Catapang was also a strong contender for chief of the Philippine Army when the post was vacated in February, but it was snatched at the last minute by an officer previously under his command, now Army chief Lieutenant General Hernando Iriberri.

Iriberri is also a strong contender for AFP chief, along with new Air Force chief Lieutenant General Jeffrey Delgado. 

When he was a young lieutenant, Catapang joined the military revolt against the Marcos dictatorship as member of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM). He was part of the EDSA rebel force that secured the Radio Veritas station in Quezon City that was used by the mutinous units to broadcast their anti-Marcos propaganda.

After Edsa 1, Catapang pushed for the disbandment of RAM because it was becoming divisive. The group would be responsible for various coup attempts against the administration of the late President Corazon Aquino. (READ: Gregorio Catapang: 'I was prepared to die for this cause')

Before becoming the Nolcom chief, Catapang was the same command's operations chief and then later commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division based in Nueva Ecija. – Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com