MANILA, Philippines - In a rainy turnover ceremony on Friday at the headquarters of the Philippine Army in Fort Bonifacio, Lt Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu became the 52nd commanding general of the Philippine Army.
Mapagu took over the leadership from his classmate Gen. Delfin Bangit, who took his oath as armed forces chief of staff on Wednesday.
Both are members of Makatarungan PMA Class of 1978, of which President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is an adopted member.
In his speech, Mapagu cited his predecessors' achievements and promised to continue their projects.
Both Bangit and Mapagu vowed the military will push for clean and credible elections in May.
"For our part, rest assured we shall persevere to fully accomplish our internal security operations mandate to reduce insurgency to an inconsequential level across country. We shall endeavor to ensure orderly, peaceful and more importantly, honest and credible elections this coming May. We will do all these so that people can focus on the more urgent goal of national development and economic prosperity," Mapagu said.
In his short speech, Bangit reiterated his commitment that "the armed forces will work very, very hard and will do everything we can so we can contribute to a very credible election and to the well-being of the nation."
Bigger role for AFP in polls
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales announced during the turnover ceremony that he has asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to allow the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to play a more active role in the May 10 elections.
"I am seeking the [permission of] Comelec to allow the deputization of the armed forces to go after goons who will be used by some or our misguided politicians," Gonzales said in his speech.
Despite the Philippine National Police's (PNP) repeated claims of success in the recovery of loose firearms, Gonzales said he still believes that politicians may resort to "a heightened level of coercion" by using loose firearms and private armies.
The military is usually deputized by the Comelec to assist the Philippine National Police in maintaining peace and order during the election period.
Gonzales said that he came up with the idea of giving the AFP a bigger role in the May 10 elections due to rumors circulating through text messages that he will "engineer the cheating in the incoming elections" with the help of Bangit.
"This is the reason why on the first day of my assumption as chief of national defense, I talked with the Comelec and told them that the Armed Forces of the Philippines will be at the full disposal of the Comelec [for the May 10 elections]," he said.
"This is a challenge to me and the chief of staff. We will see to it that the armed forces will be there on election day. We will make sure that the elections will be held as scheduled," he said. "In many quarters, they are teling me about failure of elections. We are not thinking of failure. What we are thinking of is that this elections will take place, and that it will be done fairly."
There have been rumors that the Arroyo administration will use PMA Class 1978 to cheat in the elections. The rumors were boosted by the appointment of its members to sensitive positions in the military.
Seven of the 10 Army divisions are being held by members of the same class.
Just like Bangit, Mapagu was also appointed to a top military post ahead of their upperclassmen in the PMA.
Mapagu had also served as Scout Ranger commander and replaced General Danny Lim who was detained after leading the Fort Bonifacio standoff in February 2006.
Mapagu was also chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-National Capital Region (AFP-NCR) command. -- with reports from Jay Ruiz, ABS-CBN News; ANC