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Gen. Andres Centino is AFP chief, again

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AS we enter the ‘Year of the (Water) Rabbit’ that is to be marked by “miscommunication” and “natural disasters” as one Feng Shui expert friend warned, the first controversial news we got to read that is of national significance was the return, as Armed Forces chief of staff, of Gen. Andres Castor Centino, in a simple ceremony presided last January 7, 2022 (Saturday) by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin.

Indeed, Centino’s return is of historic proportion considering that this has never happened before, dating back to 1935, during the American Occupation (Commonwealth), when the AFP was established as a “branch” of the US Armed Forces in Southeast Asia and further back, since 1897, during the ‘Naic Military Convention’ presided by Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonifacio that formally turned the fighters of the Katipunan revolutionary movement into the Philippine Army.

(Although back then, the recourse was much bloody and despicable among the more ambitious officials of the revolutionary movement that is, “murder, “like what happened to Bonifacio and Gen. Antonio Luna).

I am writing this piece not to criticize nor downplay the abilities, capabilities, and management skills of Centino as AFP chief.

Certainly, when he was appointed by PDU30 as the 57th AFP chief in November 2021, he fully deserved the recognition.

I am not also writing this piece to lament the unfortunate turn of events for Centino’s predecessor, former Southern Luzon (Solcom) area commander, Lt. General Bartolome ‘Bob’ Bacarro, who succeeded him as the 58th AFP chief last August 8, 2022, after being appointed by PBBM.

Certainly, Bacarro too has earned the recognition, having already established his credentials as one of our country’s very few living ‘MOV’ (Medal of Valor) awardee, like PBBM’s late father, Philippine Army Major Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, during his time.

I am writing this because what happened is really an “avoidable” event that only ended up embarrassing both Centino and Bacarro while putting into question the caliber and intelligence (never mind the wisdom) of some of PBBM’s “advisers” who also placed him in a very embarrassing spot.

Now, if sitting DND officer-in-charge and himself former AFP chief Jose Faustino is one of them, I really would not know at this point. And why was Faustino nowhere to be seen during last Saturday’s turnover ceremony, by the way, observers wondered.

What is worse of course is that, for this very ill-advised decision by PBBM, it was Bacarro who now ended up in early retirement while Centino ends up as being the “real beneficiary” of RA 11709 that now fixed to 3 years the term of service of the AFP chief and the major service commanders (Army, Airforce, Navy).

As it is, with Centino back as AFP chief and with the CGPA (Commanding General, Philippine Army) post already filled up by another good commander, Lt. General Romeo Brawner Jr. and that of the Vice Chief of Staff thru MGen. Arthur Cordura, Bacarro no longer has any position to return to. He must retire this early instead of his official retirement date this September 18, 2023.

It was the potential of being appointed to a fixed term of 3 years under RA 11709 that some quarters say as being behind Centino’s eventual stubborn refusal to give up his post to Bacarro after their turnover last August 8, in the presence of PBBM.

This speculation is plain hogwash as it hinted Centino as being at heart, a “greedy man” or as we termed it, “kapit-tuko sa puwesto.”

I gave more credence to the narration of some friends inside the military that the issue of Centino and Bacarro’s position as AFP chief has all boiled down to one thing: “amor propio” or “personal pride.”

As they put it to me, Centino, a “mistah” of Bacarro at PMA Class of 1988, was merely “requesting” that he be given a “one-month extension,” in short, that he is given a “graceful exit” before his replacement (Bacarro) was announced to the public and takes over from him.

That brief respite would have given Centino time to undertake, among others, his “farewell tour” to all the AFP units that he belonged to when he was first commissioned as a junior officer some 30 plus years ago.

A farewell tour has become a “tradition” in the AFP that, by itself, is another way of honoring the outgoing AFP chief for the services he rendered to the country and the organization. In short, it is a “mark of respect.”

Now, I really don’t know if some PBBM’s closest advisers are actually “remnants” of the unlamented Noynoy Aquino presidency?

I am asking this because the refusal of those in the inner circle of PBBM to give due respect to Centino by granting his “simple request” is a sort of déjà vu to what happened to one good friend of ours, the late AFP chief of staff, Gen. Delfin Bangit.

Back then, I recall that Bangit was also requesting for just a month of extension so he can have a dignified exit, complete with a farewell tour, but this was also denied to him by the vengeful regime of Noynoy Aquino.

But a true professional and gentleman that he was, Bangit, in silence, was forced out of the AFP by Aquino by June 22, 2010—even before Noynoy formally took his oath as president. Bangit was subsequently replaced by then Nolcom (Northern Luzon) commander, Lt. General Ricardo David, PNoy’s “personal choice.”

So, the question, is, why are some people inside PBBM’s administration, seemed hell-bent in “resurrecting” the bad practices of the past that only give everyone a bitter taste in the mouth afterwards?

Now, after being “snubbed” – for that it was all about—Centino’s amor propio was obviously pricked.

In a “macho” organization” like the military, to lose one’s “face” before your men and your peers cannot be soothed by money or in his case, an ambassadorship to India— an offer that also came late, sources told me.

Are not some Palace “wise guys” aware that “marites” or “rumor” can spread with such ferocity and viciousness in the AFP, enough to make the target’s mind boil to a frenzy because of loss of face?

In the case of Centino, I am sure that he would find it hard to live with the realization that despite his rank and reputation he was simply snubbed and disposed like a rag by some newly minted power trippers in the Palace.

And what do wounded warriors do? They fight back and which is what he did, using the rule of law as his shield and which is why he is back as AFP chief.

And yes too, it was the toughest of luck for Bacarro that he ended up as a “victim” because of some lousy advice to PBBM by his equally lousy advisers. He should fire them en masse and at once.

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