MANILA, Philippines - A former military assistant of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin assumed the post of Army commander yesterday.
Maj. Gen. Hernando Iriberri has been named the 56th commanding general of the Army, the fourth to be appointed under President Aquino.
Iriberri succeeds Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes, who retired yesterday after more than three decades in the service.
Iriberri’s appointment marks his return to Fort Bonifacio, where he served as spokesman for Gazmin when the latter was Army chief in 2000.
His working relationship with Gazmin did not end there, as he also served as the defense chief’s senior military assistant in 2010.
Little did Iriberri know that he would eventually occupy the former post of Gazmin, whom he holds “in highest esteem.”
“In all candor, it never dawned on me that I would be standing here as the 56th commanding-general of the Philippine Army,” he said during the change of command ceremony in Fort Bonifacio.
“There is no greater honor than being selected and placed at the head of over 85,574 professional soldiers of the Philippine Army. There is no greater burden which I gladly accept on my shoulders,” he added.
‘Lower my flag’
Perhaps overwhelmed by his appointment, Iriberri committed a blunder that turned into an icebreaker during the turnover ceremony.
Instead of ordering the Army sergeant major to raise his flag, the first directive of any officer who will assume a new post, Iriberri said “lower my flag.”
Every general in the military has a personal flag, which symbolizes his authority. The lowering of flag is done when a general officer is bowing out of the service or when he is relinquishing his post.
The audience at the ceremony, which included the President, Gazmin and Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, fell silent after Iriberri issued the wrong order.
After about two seconds, Iriberri realized his error and asked that his flag be raised, to which the Army sergeant major replied: “Yes, sir.”
Iriberri’s unintentional gaffe drew laughs from the audience, who then applauded to show their support for him.
He started his assumption speech by praying for the Army and by thanking all those who became part of his military career.
Things became a little sentimental when Iriberri recalled how he missed an important occasion with his family.
He said he was detailed somewhere in Mindanao when his wife Agnes gave birth to their first child in Manila years ago.
“With no cell phones or iPads then, Agnes could not call or locate me, and I had no idea of her condition,” Iriberri said.
“When I came home following the completion of our mission, that was the first time I saw Katrina, our firstborn. She was by then already four months old,” he added.
Iriberri vowed to push for the upgrade of the Army troops’ capabilities to enable them to address security threats and to respond to disasters.
He cited the need to elevate the competency levels of soldiers by upgrading and modernizing all training systems, facilities and institutions.
“Let us enhance our joint and combined operational capabilities by further improving our TTPs (techniques tactics and procedures) for interoperability with other armed forces in addressing operational exigencies,” the Army chief said.
“Let us make the Philippine Army a decisive force, one that will not only rise equal to the traditional challenges and non-traditional concerns, but also dominate and prevail over such challenges,” he added.
Iriberri also promised to broaden engagements with civilian stakeholders, sustain focused ground operations and support soldiers’ career development.
“With me at the helm, we will continue to make the Army trooper the pleasant face of the professional soldier our country deserves and the saving hand for anyone trapped or taken away by disaster,” he said.
In his speech, Aquino lauded Iriberri for securing last year’s elections in Abra when the latter was still chief of the 503rd Infantry Brigade.
“His unit was instrumental for the attainment of the most peaceful election in the province of Abra,” he said.
Aquino said the voter turnout in Abra, widely regarded as an election hotspot, reached 83 percent during Iriberri’s watch.
“I heard that he (Iriberri) is known in the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) as code Superman because he always tops all physical exercises,” Aquino said.
“I hope he will display strength, discipline and dedication as he continues the transformation of the Army,” he added.