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Armed forces reshuffling top officers

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has been silently reshuffling key positions with jockeying going on in some units.

Brigadier General Alexander Balutan, former commander of the 1st Marine Brigade based in Central Mindanao, was designated Deputy Commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom).

Balutan, a member of the Philippine Military Academy “Matikas” Class 1983, was among ranking officials who exposed the alleged poll cheating in Mindanao during the 2004 presidential election won by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Arroyo defeated the late Philippine movie action king Fernando Poe Jr.

The command is presently led by Lieutenant General Ricardo Rainier Cruz III of PMA “Dimalupig” Class 1981.

Balutan was replaced by classmate, Col. Emmanuel Salamat.

Also promoted Deputy Commandant of the Philippines Marines was Col. Jose Johriel Cenabre (PMA ’83), former commander of the 2nd Marine Brigade based in Sulu.

Cenabre was replaced by Brig. Gen. Martin Pinto of PMA “Maharlika” Class 1984.

On Friday, Col. Melquides Feliciano (PMA “Sandiwa” Class 1985) was installed as the new commander of the 602nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army. He replaced Brig. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan (PMA ’83).

The Sandiwa class has Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. as honorary or adopted member. The senator was among lawmakers currently facing plunder case together with alleged pork-barrel queen Janet Lim-Napoles in the P10-billion scam involving the alleged misuse of Priority Development Assistance Fund.

The 602nd Brigade has been leading in the battle against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters across Central Mindanao.

The BIFF is led by Ameril Umbra Kato, a former commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). In 2012, the MILF expelled Kato and his followers from the organization for sabotaging the peace talks between the MILF and the government. In the same year, Kato formed his own BIFF to further sabotage the peace talks.

Other top positions in Army are the 7th and 5th Infantry Divisions based in Nueva Ecija and Isabela, respectively.

The 7th ID was the former command of now Army chief Maj. Gen. Hernando Iriberri (PMA ’83) whose appointment was marred with controversy because of his closeness to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

Reports said some quarters have blamed the so-called “Board of Gazmin” for lingering favoritism in the promotion and designation of senior officers especially in the Army. Gazmin was a former Army chief.

Gazmin repeatedly denied such accusation. The Board of Generals led by AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista with Vice Chief of Staff, The Deputy Chief of Staff and commanders of the three major services (Army, Air Force and Navy) recommends the promotion and designation of senior officers.

Bowing out of service this year are Bautista (PMA ’81) who will retire at age 56 on July 20; Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Lauro dela Cruz (PMA ’80), April 30; Navy chief Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano (PMA ’79, May 1; Armed Forces Vice Chief Lt. Gen. Alan Luga (PMA ’81), May 12; AFP-Civil Relations Service chief Brig. Gen. Rolando Jungco (PMA “Sandigan” Class 1982); Western Command (Westcom or “West Philippine Sea commander”) chief Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda (PMA ’80), August 17; Cruz, September 6; and Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) chief Lt. Gen. Caesar Ronnie Ordoyo (PMA ’80), September 8.

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