MANILA — The sudden reappointment of General Andres Centino to his old post as chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) could be seen as a bid by the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to meet its goal of ending the Philippines’ long-running communist rebellion, a security analyst said Saturday.
Chester Cabalza of the think tank International Development and Security Cooperation described Marcos Jr.’s unprecedented move to reinstall a former military chief as “bizarre”.
However, Cabalza said Centino’s credentials and military experience in combating the insurgency are among the factors that may explain why he was brought back to the service.
“Malaki rin ang kanyang ambag sa pagbaba ng lakas ng ating mga kalaban at napansin din natin that his experience on the ground cannot be discounted. I think he will bring back this strategy given that the insurgency problem remains to be a top national security issue in our country,” Cabalza said in a video call interview with ABS-CBN News.
Centino was reappointed to the post 5 months after handing it over to Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro, who passed back to Centino the AFP’s symbol of command at a ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo on Saturday.
Centino, who first became AFP chief of staff from November 2021 to August 2022, was previously command officer of the Philippine Army, where he served for more than 3 decades.
The general’s field experience in Mindanao also dealt with both communist and terrorist armed groups, Cabalza said.
During Centino’s first term, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) pushed for bigger funding of its barangay development program to address basic issues in rebellion-affected regions.
Nakita natin during his reign and leadership as chief of staff of AFP mukhang naging effective ito. Given that the Army gets the lion’s share in the budget of the AFP we hope that he will turn around the leadership of the AFP,” Cabalza said.
Despite Centino’s wide experience in internal security, his challenge as returning AFP chief is beefing up its capability to handle external security threats which are handled by the Philippine Air Force and Navy, Cabalza added.
Former senator Panfilo Lacson in a tweet applauded Centino’s reappointment as a welcome development and a right move by President Marcos Jr.
“Justice is done to a truly deserving officer by a president who is willing to rectify an error when it is the right thing to do,” he added.
Lacson sponsored the bill that became Republic Act No. 11709, which will allow Centino to serve a full 3-year term despite reaching the mandatory military retirement age of 56 next February.
Outgoing chief of staff Bacarro would have been the first to benefit from the law passed in 2022.
Executive secretary Lucas Bersamin, who presided over the AFP change of command ceremony, hinted at a possible future government position for the retiring general.
“I don’t think this is the end of his public life. We are going to give true value to your achievements and we will always remember your service and sacrifices to the country,” Bersamin said in his remarks.
Defense department officer-in-charge Jose Faustino Jr., who was Centino’s predecessor as AFP chief of staff in 2021, was not present at the ceremony.
Malacañang Palace has not yet explained why it made the sudden reappointment.
Cabalza said that while it is possible there have been internal talks behind the move, there was no outright opposition over the handover.
The analyst believes the military will support Marcos Jr.’s decision, especially with Centino’s previous contribution in pushing for professionalism and meritocracy in the armed forces.
“It just so happened that you have politics also in the selection of the chief of staff of the AFP at minsan nagiging prerogative ‘yan at kinakailangan respetuhin natin especially in military culture they have to comply before complaining,” he said.
In a statement released Saturday, the AFP welcomed Centino’s reappointment and reiterated its support for its commander-in-chief’s choice in leadership.
“The AFP will continue in its mission to defeat all armed threat groups for the security and safety of our people, for the defense of our territorial integrity and national sovereignty,” the short statement ended.