Duterte to skip AFP turnover rites

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    PRESIDENT Duterte will skip Monday’s ceremonies for the assumption of Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay as Armed Forces chief in Camp Aguinaldo, the second time he is not attending such activity.

    “The President has a prior commitment so he cannot personally attend,” Armed Forces spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said on Sunday, citing information from the military’s Secretary of Joint Staff.

    Arevalo said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana will be presiding over the change-of-command ceremony which will be held at the Tejeros Hall of the AFP Commissioned Officers Club at around 10 a.m.

    Arevalo said the ceremony will be without the traditional parade and review since it will be held indoor, with limited guests based on health protocols being observed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Arevalo said only “principal guests” will be allowed inside the Tejeros Hall to witness the turnover. The other guests will be staying at the Lapu-Lapu Grandstand where ceremony will be aired live via LED panels.

    In September last year, President Duterte also missed the assumption ceremony for AFP chief Gen. Noel Clement, who served until last January this year upon reaching the retirement age of 56.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque has said the President opted to rest because of “the punishing schedule of official and social events of the previous days has slightly affected his body temperature.”

    The President traditionally leads assumption rites for the new AFP chief. Arevalo said the President’s presence is not actually a requirement, adding the defense secretary may also preside such ceremony.

    “Either of the two (President or Defense Secretary) will do as presiding officer, not necessarily the President. So it depends on the availability of the President. If he (President) is available, he’ll attend,” Arevalo said.

    “But if he (the President is) not available, it does not diminish the significance of the presiding officer being the secretary of national defense,” he added. He noted that AFP is one of the bureaus under the defense department.

    Arevalo also said adjustments adopted amid the COVID-19 pandemic “will not dampen the spirit, the solemnity” of the change of command ceremony.

    Gapay, the outgoing Army chief, will take over the helm of the Armed Forces from Gen. Felimon Santos Jr who is reaching the retirement age of 56 on Monday, August 3.

    Gapay is the eighth AFP chief to be appointed by Duterte. The seven others are Santos, Clement, Benjamin Madrigal (now administrator of the Philippine Coconut Authority), Carlito Galvez (now presidential adviser on the peace process and National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer), Rey Leonardo Guerrero (now customs commissioner), Eduardo Año (now interior secretary), and Ricardo Visaya (now administrator of the National Irrigation Administration)

    Gapay’s successor as Army chief will be AFP Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, a Medal of Valor awardee. Authorities have yet to announce who will be Sobejana’s replacement at the Wesmincom.