Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Marcos on shake-up: AFP faced ‘seniority’ problem, ex-NSA found job ‘political’

Sofia Tomacruz
Marcos on shake-up: AFP faced ‘seniority’ problem, ex-NSA found job ‘political’

'UNITED.' Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez and AFP Chief General Andres Centino preside over a command conference inside Camp Aguinaldo headquarters on January 12, 2023.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

The military’s lone four-star general should serve as chief of staff, while the former national security adviser, a retired UP professor, ‘is not used’ to that kind of job

MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. reappointed General Andres Centino as military chief to fix a “seniority” problem in which a three-star general, instead of the traditional four-star, had led the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The President also changed his national security adviser (NSA) after Clarita Carlos, the retired political science professor who first occupied this post under Marcos, found the job “political.”

Marcos explained the security sector shake-up in an interview with reporters on Monday, January 16, on his way to the World Economic Forum in Davos. This was days after he announced a new AFP chief of staff, defense secretary, and national security adviser – and only seven months after he took office.

Kasi nira-rationalize namin ‘yung seniority (Because we are rationalizing the seniority),” said Marcos, when asked why he decided to replace former AFP chief of staff Lieutenant General Bartolome Vicente Bacarro and reappoint General Centino.

Bacarro carried three stars as military chief while Centino, whom he replaced in August 2022, was the lone four-star general in the AFP. Centino served as AFP chief of staff from November 2021, under then-president Rodrigo Duterte, until Marcos initially replaced him with Bacarro in August 2022.

By law, there can only be one four-star general in the armed forces – the AFP chief. Although Centino no longer held the top post at the start of the Marcos administration, he did not retire early and therefore still kept the four stars on his shoulders. This meant that Bacarro, throughout his brief stint as AFP chief, remained a lieutenant general with three stars.

So kailangan natin ayusin kasi magkakagulo doon sa baba,” Marcos said. “There were some comments that were made: ‘Paano ‘yan ‘pag nag-extend-extend, kami naman dito sa lower ranks, wala na kaming pag-asa?’” (So we needed to fix that because there would be trouble in the lower ranks. There were some comments made: “If they extend and extend, how about us here in the lower ranks, will we no longer have hope?”)

Marcos described the situation as “not right,” saying it would cause low morale in the uniformed service. To address this, Marcos said his administration then asked the military what was needed, “and I said ayusin namin ‘yung (we will fix the) seniority, and that’s what we’ve done.”

Before Centino’s reappointment, Bacarro had been expected to hold the post as the AFP’s first three-year chief of staff until 2025. Bacarro had been given the post just a month before his scheduled retirement in September 2022, but was extended under Republic Act No. 11709, which implemented fixed terms of key officers of the military, “unless sooner terminated by the President.”

Like Bacarro, Centino reassumes the top military post just a month before his retirement in February. It was not immediately clear if Centino will continue to serve beyond his schedule retirement.

Asked in an earlier press briefing if he would serve for three years, Centino told defense reporters, “It’s really up to the President.”

New senior appointments

It was this change in AFP leadership that prompted former defense officer-in-charge Jose Faustino Jr. to resign on January 6. Faustino earlier disclosed that he had been kept out of the loop on Bacarro’s exit, learning only through the media that Centino had taken his oath with Marcos.

Malacañang later refuted Faustino’s claim, saying the former acting defense chief “knew of” developments related to Centino’s reappointment.

Marcos later named retired general Carlito Galvez Jr. as Faustino’s replacement. Asked why he appointed Galvez, the President cited Galvez’ experience.

“In fact as soon as he took his oath… he knew already what to do. He presided over the command conference. So I think he’ll slide into that position really easily,” Marcos said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Also asked about the change in his NSA, Marcos said Carlos “found that position to be a little bit political.”

Hindi talaga siya sanay sa gano’n (She’s not really used to that),” said Marcos, “and she is an academic, a retired academic.”

Carlos, who taught political science at the University of the Philippines, was the country’s first female NSA at least since the presidency of Marcos’ father. Before Carlos, the post typically went to former military officers or politicians with defense background.

The NSA advises the president on all issues related to security – from counterterrorism and counterinsurgency to maritime security, especially now that Philippines is still staking its claim against China in the West Philippine Sea.

Carlos, stepping down from the role, said she decided to instead join the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department of the House of Representatives.

“I have realized that it is no longer politic to continue as NSA to the President and so, I have decided to migrate to another agency where my expertise on foreign, defense and security policy will be of use and I shall continue to help build a Better Philippines,” Carlos said.

Carlos was replaced by former interior secretary and military chief Eduardo Año. Marcos said he decided to choose the retired general because of his “long, long, long experience in intelligence.”

“He’s well-known and he knows all of the operatives in the intelligence community,” Marcos said. – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.