There’s a scene at the gates of Malacañang that’s recounted by military officers with derision.
Hours before his oath-taking on January 6 as the reappointed chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), General Andres Centino went incognito to Malacañang – where he, in civilian clothes, was whisked through the gate by an SUV driven by a Camp Aguinaldo general. They passed the guards without showing his face or an ID, and, upon reaching the Office of the President, was made to change into military attire.
A few anxious minutes later, Centino was seen wearing a repressed smile as he took his oath before President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., his commander in chief.
It was a Friday. And it was yet another sneaky oath-taking that Malacañang has grown fond of under this administration.
Why would Centino take his oath under clandestine circumstances? Because, according to officers we’ve interviewed, neither the defense department nor the military’s Board of Generals (BOG) was aware of his return as chief of staff. Worse, they didn’t even endorse it.
Centino, whose reappointment now gives him a fresh three-year term based on a new military law (unless it’s cut short again, of course) was already taken out as AFP chief of staff in August 2022 – before his mandatory retirement date of February 4, 2023.
He was replaced by his classmate at the Philippine Military Academy (1988), Lieutenant General Bartolome Bacarro, in a ceremony attended by Marcos. Centino was given an ambassadorial post in India – but it turned out that he did not take his removal well.
At that point, he still had six months remaining in service, compared to Bacarro, who was already retiring in a month. After being promoted by Marcos, the bemedaled Bacarro thought he had gotten a fresh three-year term.
Political will? It was bizarre!
In November last year, when word got around that Bacarro was on the firing deck after the dismissal of Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez who endorsed him for the post, the name of Centino as his possible replacement did not crop up. Understandably so – for it would be bizarre to return him to a post he had already vacated.
Well, the bizarre happened.
Yet it was spun as a show of political will on the part of the President, for him to “correct” a supposed “wrong” that was committed against Centino who should not have been removed in the first place. Marcos would later explain that Centino’s comeback was meant to rationalize “seniority” in the military since he is a four-star general compared to Bacarro who only had three stars.
But what are the facts? It was Marcos himself who removed Centino as chief of staff. And if the issue was that Bacarro’s appointment clogged the promotion process for other seniors waiting in the wings (as he earned a fresh three-year term a month before his retirement), then what do we make of Centino’s reappointment, which also gave him another three years just a month before his scheduled retirement last February 4, 2023?
If Marcos indeed wanted to address the camps’ grumblings over the mess caused by the fixed-term law, he could have just picked a chief of staff who was not going to retire anytime soon and would be guilt-free getting another three years.
In truth, this is unnecessary hand-wringing over what essentially was a power play in Malacañang that’s driven by a continuing purge of those associated with Rodriguez and the Duterte regime.
It’s not clear who helped Centino reach the power corridors of Malacañang to plead for his reappointment. Insiders said his designation was vetted by Anton Lagdameo, the Special Assistant to the President.
Understand that Malacañang announced his appointment a day after Marcos arrived from Beijing. The pre-work for it likely happened while the President was dining with his Chinese counterparts.
Marcos was reportedly assured of smooth sailing – even if Centino’s papers did not go through military protocol. In normal times, the chief of staff nominee would be endorsed by the Board of Generals and then the defense chief, in this case then-acting defense secretary Jose “Boy” Faustino Jr. None of that happened.
Looped out of the process, Faustino wrote a resignation letter to Marcos, hand-delivered by an officer close to the President, on the evening of January 6. This was a few hours after Centino’s oath-taking at the Palace. (Incidentally, Bacarro, Centino, and Faustino are all PMA classmates, Class 1988.)
Saying no the President
The OIC defense chief’s resignation shocked the President, and upset him, according to officers we spoke with. The following day, Saturday, January 7, rumors swirled about a supposed mass resignation at the defense department, with agitated tanks supposedly rolling by the camps. All this had a grain of truth: Faustino’s undersecretaries and assistant secretaries had decided to offer their resignation, and there was chatter online from regional commands about how and why Faustino was treated that way by the Palace. The radio silence from Camp Aguinaldo that long weekend fueled the rumors.
President Marcos and Faustino spoke twice that weekend, according to officers, the last time on Sunday, January 8, in Malacañang where the President tried to soothe ruffled feathers and asked him to stay. Faustino stood his ground. What self-respecting officer would do otherwise?
While the intrigue against Faustino was his alleged close ties to Rodriguez and the Duterte regime, it’s a little known fact that he helped the Marcos presidential campaign in their operations in Mindanao. Between Marcos and him is a shared memory of how they managed to win in Mindanao – and that’s one reason the commander in chief could not make up his mind on whether to permanently appoint him as defense secretary or give in to the fierce lobby from within the Palace to replace him because of his alleged ties to those already disgraced by Malacañang.
But if Marcos knew any better, he as commander in chief should have anticipated that a Centino reappointment would trigger Faustino. He should have known that it merited more careful handling, or that the OIC defense chief should be given the basic courtesy of an FYI. Despite being classmates at the PMA, there’s rivalry between the two; under Duterte, it was Centino who replaced Faustino as Army chief when the latter could not be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments as he had less than a year remaining in service, a violation of an old law.
If Marcos was given the false assurance that Faustino had been looped in, as some Camp Aguinaldo officers are saying, what does that say about him as commander in chief and about his inner circle who allowed this to happen?
But if it was Marcos himself who approved the exclusion of Faustino from the decision to reappoint Centino, what does that say about his judgment of an institution that’s a stickler for black-and-white rules?
It’s not the first time that the President has wronged a retired general through his surprise appointments.
In late December, Malacañang announced the replacement of retired Army general Raymundo Ferrer while he was supervising relief operations in Northern Mindanao, which was reeling from heavy rain and flash floods. He had to leave all at once and be in Manila in time for his turnover to former Customs commissioner Ariel Nepomuceno.
Just like that – done to an officer whose public service record is nothing to sneeze at.
Over the weekend, at the alumni homecoming at the Philippine Military Academy, his first as commander in chief, Marcos dropped yet another ball of uncertainty over the defense department that left officers scratching their crew-cut heads: he referred to Faustino’s replacement, Charlie Galvez, as “officer in charge” of the defense department and “senior undersecretary.”
Yet, the Palace statement that was released to announce Galvez’s appointment in January clearly said Marcos had offered him the position of defense secretary.
What gives, Mr. President? – Rappler.com
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