MANILA (UPDATED) - President Benigno Aquino III on Friday appointed Army chief Lieutenant General Hernando Iriberri as the new chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), following the retirement of General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr.
In his speech during the change of command ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo, Iriberri thanked the President, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Catapang for their trust and confidence, and their example of leadership.
He also said he is humbled by the sacrifice and commitment of his fellow soldiers.
"Today I am given the greatest responsibility in my military career. With all humility and steadfastness, I accept this charge to serve our nation," said Iriberri, who was commanding general of the Army prior to his appointment as AFP chief.
"By the end of 2016, the goal is for peace to reign in all the provinces in our country," he said. "Winning the peace is not the end but only the beginning of another chapter in our internal security operation."
"And so today, as the [AFP] offers up its record of winning the peace, we make a new pledge. We will not only win the peace but we will secure the peace as well," he added.
Iriberri also vowed to work for the AFP Transformation Roadmap with commitment, consistency and focus.
"To my countrymen, I am all yours to lead and command your Armed Forces. I am all yours in service. Mabahay ang kawal Pilipino," he said.
Prior to becoming Army chief, Iriberri served different positions. He was the spokesman of the Philippine Army when Secretary Voltaire Gazmin was Army chief and also became Gazmin's senior military adviser and spokesman after the latter was named defense secretary.
He was named commanding general of the Philippine Army in February 2014.
Iriberri joined the Army in 1983 after graduating from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). As an infantry officer, he served as a platoon leader and company commander of the 23rd Infantry Battalion of the 4th Infantry Division, assigned in the provinces of Bukidnon and Agusan del Sur.
He was also appointed commander of the Task Group Panther "COMAG" of the First Scout Ranger Regiment in Central Midnanao from 1995 to 1996. His group was credited for several attacks on the camps of Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
He also served as commander of the 503rd Infantry Brigade of the 5th Infantry Division, as well as the 7th Infantry Division.
Iriberri holds a master's degree in Management and Defense Studies from the University of Canberra.
He will serve as AFP chief until he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 56 in April 2016.
Catapang, for his part, expressed confidence that he is leaving behind a "stronger" Armed Forces, thanking the President for the government's continued support to modernizing the AFP.
He said he is leaving the service fulfilled, adding that leading the AFP is one of his life's greatest moments.
"Tomorrow I shall awake to a new dawn, fulfilled and humbled with the thought that I leave behind a stronger, more credible and more stable Armed Forces... Together we have brought the Armed Forces closer to the people whom we have sworn to serve and protect," he said.
Catapang also expressed confidence on the newly-appointed AFP chief that he can move the Armed Forces forward and stay the course in the Transformation Roadmap.
Meanwhile, President Aquino lauded the outgoing AFP chief and challenged Iriberri to continue the reforms Catapang had started.
Aquino commended Catapang for exceeding his expectations in ensuring peace and security in the country.
He also touted Catapang's role in strengthening the capability of troops to deal with disasters, saving peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, containing high value targets, and ensuring strong lines of communication between the police and military in the wake of the Mamasapano incident.
"Malinaw sa kanya, walang ibang dapat paglingkuran ang ating mga sundalo kundi ang ating bandila at ang taumbayan... Hindi po niya tayo binigo. Sa katunayan lampas-lampas pa ang ibinigay niya sa atin," the President said.
"Iiwan ni Gen. Catapang ang isang AFP na mas matatag, mas moderno, at buo ang integridad," he added.
The President then urged Iriberri to continue the reforms in the AFP.
"Ito ang hamon ko sa iyo ngayon: ipagpatuloy ang magandang nasimulan ni Gen. Capatang at ng mga nauna sa kanya, at lalo pang itaas ang kalidad ng serbisyo ng ating mga kawal," he said.
"Napakarami na nating napagtagumpayan. Natakpan natin ang mga tagas sa ating sistema at institusyon. Pinapanagot natin ang mga tiwali sa pinakamatataas ng opisina ng ating pamahalaan... Nabawi na natin ang ating pambansang dangal. Isipin na lang po ninyo ano ang kaya pa nating makamit kung patuloy nating pipiliin ang matuwid."