Armed Forces of the Philippines

Marcos OKs tweaks to Duterte-era law on fixed terms for AFP top brass

Bea Cupin

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Marcos OKs tweaks to Duterte-era law on fixed terms for AFP top brass

Dumalo si Pangulong Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. sa Philippine Military Academy Alumni Homecoming ngayong araw, Pebrero 18 sa Baguio City.

A little over a year after then-president Rodrigo Duterte signed the law, his predecessor approves amendments to it. Here's what's changed.

MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday, May 17, signed a law that amends the year-old legislation that set fixed terms for the top brass of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Marcos signed Republic Act No. 11939, which amends RA 11709, which intended to improve the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)’s merit system and ensure the continuity of its programs and policies.

The law was seen to end the “revolving door” policy at the AFP observed by past presidents, including the one who signed it – Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

The amendments introduced in RA 11939 were mostly triggered by feedback from military officers.

From ‘fixed’ to maximum

Under the amended law, the maximum tour of duty of the commanding generals of the Army, Navy, and Air Force is set to two years from the three stipulated in the law Duterte signed.

The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) superintendent also has a maximum tour of duty of two years instead of the four-year fixed-term in the original law.

The AFP chief has a “maximum tour of duty” of three consecutive years. In the previous law, the term used was “fixed tour of duty.”

While an officer is commander of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or superintendent of the PMA, he or she is not eligible for other AFP posts, unless it’s for AFP chief.

The new law no longer specifies fixed or maximum terms for the inspector general or the chiefs of unified commands.

The two-year and three-year maximum terms may be still be cut short if the President decides. The AFP chief may also serve longer “in times of war or other national emergency declared by Congress” upon the President’s discretion.

In order to be promoted to brigadier general or commodore – all one-star ranks – an officer must have at least one more year of active service before compulsory retirement. The exception is if an officer is to be promoted to AFP chief, commander of one of the three major services, or PMA superintendent.

Compulsory retirement age

For the most part, the new law either adds to or deducts a year from the mandatory retirement age set forth in the Duterte-era law.

Second lieutenant/Eesign (O-1) to lieutenant general/vice admiral (O-9) all must now retire by 57 or after accumulating 30 years of service.

Previously, 56 years of age or 30 years in active duty was the retirement age of those with the grades of second lieutenant/ensign (O-1) to colonel/captain (O-6) while 59 years of age or their fixed term was when those with grades brigadier general/commodore (O-7) to lieutenant general/vice admiral (O-9) were made to retire.

The AFP chief, heads of the major commands, and the PMA superintendent retire when their tour of duty is complete or when the President relieves them.

Previously, those with three-year fixed-terms retire after completing their duty, unless they are promoted to chief of starr or relieved and not appointed to any other AFP post.

Compulsory retirement for enlisted personnel comes after 30 years of service or upon turning 57 years old, whichever comes later. In the old law, 56 was the mandatory age of retirement for enlisted personnel.

No changes were made to the mandatory retirement of those commissioned under Presidential Decree No. 1908 and appointed in the Corps of Professors. It remains at 60 or after 20 years of active duty, whichever comes later.

How active duty is defined

The amended law also includes an extensive addition to the term “active duty.”

The new law adds this sentence: “Provided, that the period of cadetship as creditable service for foreign service academy/foreign military training institutions shall include the number of days/months/years of cadetship prior to entry to such academy/institution and the equivalent mandated period of program instructions of the training institution attended, to include the required language course, if applicable.”

A handful of Filipino cadets – youth who enter the AFP as commissioned officers through the PMA – spend time overseas in foreign academies. Previously, the law did not explicitly take these years into account and defined “active duty” as “the service or duty as a commissioned officer, enlisted personnel, cadet, probationary officer, trainee or draftee in the regular force of the AFP.”

Tenure-in-grade, officer distribution

Tenure-in-grade refers to the maximum length of time officers must accumulate before they are eligible for promotion.

The maximum for major general or rear admiral to general or admiral remains the same at three years, but has been expanded to five years for the rank of brigadier general or commodore.

Tenure-in grade for colonels or captains (of the Navy) was increased to 10 years, from eight years under the previous law. Colonel in the Army and Air Force or captain in the Navy is the grade or rank just before officers get their first star.

The new law also gives the President more leeway – “the President may lengthen the tenure-in-grade of officers in permanent grades of Captain, Major, and Lieutenant Colonel, or their equivalent, up to two (2) promotional cycles when necessary, to maintain the desirable officer rank structure and uphold the progressive professional development of the officer corps.”

The new law also explicitly states that it is the defense secretary, “in consultation with the AFP,” who will determine the number of officers in any specific rank or post.

Limits to the percentage of officers who can hold a certain rank at a time remain mostly the same, save for minor tweaks to the general/flag officers and first lieutenant/lieutenant junior grade (Navy) and second lieutenant/ensign (Navy).

The Duterte-era law states that the Air Force and Navy are to have a higher officer to enlisted personnel ratio, provided that it does not exceed “fifteen percent (15%) of the officer to enlisted personnel ratio allocated in the Philippine Army.” The amended law removes that cap.

The amendments apply 15 days after the law’s publication in the Official Gazette or by early June 2023. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.