PH Air Force, Navy leadership changes loom

by Inquirer | Jan 9, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — After Lt. Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. recently took the helm of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as the new chief of staff, the coming weeks would also mark key leadership changes in two major AFP service commands — the Philippine Air Force and Philippine Navy.

Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Rozzano Briguez and Navy Flag Officer in Command Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad are set to bow out of service in the next few weeks, paving the way for other ranking officers to take over.

The retirement of these top officers would trigger a reshuffle, which is common in the military. The domino effect would be felt in regional commands as well.

Successors of Santos in the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) and Philippine Army Chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, who left the top post of the Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) in December, have yet to be announced.

“Definitely, there will be movements..There will be a major movement because there will be a lot of vacancies,” said Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson.

“But that will have no serious impact on the armed forces and its operations,” he said.

“For the time being, papers are being processed to be signed the President,” Arevalo added.

Briguez, who served as Air Force chief for about a year, will reach the compulsory retirement age of 56 on Jan. 17.

His potential successors included AFP deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. Erickson Gloria, Air Force vice commander Maj. Gen. Pelagio Valenzuela, Air Logistics Command chief Maj. Gen. Allen Paredes, and Air Education and Training Command chief Maj. Gen. Ferdinand Cartujano.

All are members of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Maringal” Class of 1988.

The year 2020 is important to the Air Force. It is set to announce its choice of multi-role fighter aircraft for defense and border protection, a big-ticket acquisition project.

The PAF was also expected to get its hands this year on hew hardware that included the Super Tucano light attack aircraft, Black Hawk combat utility helicopters and Gulfstream G-280 jet.

Busy year for the Navy
The Philippine Navy will also soon welcome a new flag officer in command with the coming retirement of Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, who is turning 56 on Feb. 3.

All the current three-star Navy officers— AFP vice chief of staff Vice Admiral Gaudencio Collado Jr., Western Command chief Vice Admiral Rene Medina and PMA Superintendent Vice Admiral Allan Ferdinand Cusi— all from PMA “Sinagtala” Class of 1986 like Empedrad, are scheduled to retire within the year.

The Navy has a handful of well-qualified two-star officers to choose from. All of them have more than a year left in service before their retirement.

Philippine Fleet commander Rear Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, Naval Sea Systems Command chief Rear Admiral Rommel Jason Galang, Naval Education, Training and Doctrine Command chief Rear Admiral Loumer Bernabe and Naval Forces Western Mindanao chief Rear Admiral Erick Kagaoan — all from PMA “Hinirang” Class of 1987, are some of the officers being considered for the post.

But observers are keeping a close watch on the possibility that Empedrad’s replacement would come from PMA Class of 1988, which they said has a strong political backing than Class 1987.

The AFP and Army chiefs under Duterte administration, if not all, had previously served in Davao, the home province of the President.

This means Rear Admiral Ramil Roberto Enriquez, deputy chief of staff for reservist and retiree affairs and a member of Class 1988, would be a dark horse. His stint as commander of the Davao-based Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao prior to his current assignment gives him an advantage, said senior officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Other candidates for the top Navy post do not have similar Davao connections to the President.

Another candidate from PMA Class of 1988 is Rear Admiral Adelius Bordado, head of AFP Education, Training and Doctrine Command.

Disregarding the seniority-based culture ingrained in the armed forces or employing political backing in choosing the next Navy chief could raise eyebrows, according to insiders. Upperclassmen who are competent would be bypassed and miss their chance at the plum Navy post despite their credentials.

It could also allow much junior officials to jockey for positions with politicians or influential personalities to get their choice assignments, they said.

The leadership change comes in the Navy’s “Vision Year” when it hopes to build a “strong and credible” maritime force.

The Navy will host for the first time the Western Pacific Naval Symposium and the International Fleet Review this year. It is also gearing up to join the Rim of the Pacific, the biggest US-led international naval exercises, later this year.

If there are no hitches in schedule, the Navy will commission two brand new missile-capable frigates in the coming months.

The vessels made from South Korea are regarded as the “benchmark of Philippine Navy’s transformation journey,” despite previous controversies surrounding the frigate acquisition program. The upcoming assets will be the Navy’s most advanced warships.

By Frances Mangosing, January 9, 2020