Gen. Gilbert Gapay, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), pledged to sustain the military’s achievements this year as its 85th year anniversary celebration culminated Monday night in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
With the theme “[email protected]: Pinag-isang Lakas na Maaasahan ng mga Pilipino,” Gapay looked back at the different accomplishments of the military beginning from the eruption of Taal Volcano in January to the COVID-19 pandemic and the successive typhoons that hit the country in October and November.
“This year 2020, a year that we all hoped and envisioned to bring greater opportunities but twists of fate could not have been more drastic in the span of this single year. From the eruption of the Taal Volcano, to the spread of COVID-19, and the aftermath of typhoons this last quarter of the year, time and again, our resilience, strength of character, and will were tested,” he said.
The military has been at the forefront of the country’s most crucial times, including the eruption of Taal Volcano, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people, to the fight against the COVID-19.
Military equipment and personnel were deployed to contain the spread of the contagion and deliver medical supplies to areas around the country.
The military was also involved in rescue and rehabilitation efforts in areas devastated by the destructive typhoons that hit Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao – most recent of which were super typhoon “Rolly” and typhoons “Quinta,” “Ulysses,” and “Vicky.”
“These accomplishments of your Armed Forces speak of our commitment and dedication to serve and protect. The wars and battles in the AFP’s history have successfully honed each Filipino soldier with unwavering tenacity and resilience,” he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana praised the commitment of the soldiers to guard the country against internal and external threats while also serving in the frontlines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have all sworn to be loyal to our country and people. May we always remember this especially when cowardice, greed, and ambition tempt us to take short cuts or become oblivious to wrongdoings that would divert us from pursuing our sacred mandate,” Lorenzana said.
The closing ceremony was virtually attended by President Duterte.
Security threats Amid the threats of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AFP chief lauded the perseverance and commitment of soldiers in defeating internal security threats, including the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), the Abu Sayyaf Group, and other local terrorist groups.
“The AFP significantly degraded the armed capability of the CPP-NPA and the local terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and the Dawlah Islamiah-affiliated terror groups. Their manpower, firepower, and mass base support are on the decline,” he said.
Military records showed that more than 11,000 communist rebels were “neutralized” by the military from January to December 2020. Of these, 200 were killed, 200 more were arrested, and 7,000 others surrendered to authorities.
“We could now see the light at the end of the tunnel. We are confident that these internal armed conflicts will be permanently put to rest before our President’s term ends in 2022,” Gapay said.
He also discussed the developments in the AFP modernization program, including the acquisition of “big-ticket” items that greatly improved joint capabilities such as the Philippine Navy’s first missile-capable frigate BRP Jose Rizal, FA-50 jets, Super Tucano ground attack aircraft, and six of the sixteen S-70i Black Hawk combat utility helicopters of the Philippine Air Force.
The Philippine Army is set to receive light tanks, self-propelled artillery pieces, and modern riverine equipment as part of the military’s capability upgrading efforts.
“With all these acquisitions, the AFP continues to build its momentum and is steadily moving forward towards the realization of our modernization goals and objectives,” Gapay said.
The new acquisitions, according to Gapay, helped the military to establish “effective” presence in the contested areas in the West Philippine Sea.
The top military commander also recognized the developments in addressing the mental health of active and retired soldiers through the Comprehensive Mental Health Program.
The mental health program was established following the killing of retired Corporal Winston Ragos in April 2020. Ragos, who was suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was shot dead by cops manning a checkpoint in Quezon City.
“However, we are aware that there is still so much to be done to enable us, your Armed Forces, to sustain the momentum of our operations and to realize our ultimate objective of attaining genuine peace and development for our nation and the Filipino people,” Gapay said.
Defense Undersecretary Cardozo Luna awarded the Order of Lapu-Lapu (Order of Kamagi) to Col. Ericson Rosana, Commander Gilbert Villareal Jr., and Sgt. Dandin Lastimosa.
The Order of Lapu-Lapu is bestowed to government officials and personnel who have shown exemplary service and invaluable contribution to the advancement of the administration’s objectives.
Further, the Battle Streamer Award was given to the Joint Special Operations Units 1, 2, and 3; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Scout Ranger Battalions; 1st, 10th, 15th, 44th, 49th, 51s, 55th, 65th, and 82nd Infantry Battalions; 6th Civil Military Operations Regiment; 1st, 2nd, and 4th Mechanized Battalions; and 1st, 3rd, and 4th Field Artillery Battalions.
It was also given to the Marine Battalion Landing Teams 5, 7, and 10; Marine Field Artillery Battalion; Marine Special Operations Group; 15th Strike Wing; 5th Fighter Wing; 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing; 250th Presidential Airlift Wing; 710th Special Operations Wing; and 220th Airlift Wing.
The Battle Streamer Award is given to military units that were involved and victorious in battles against communist groups and local terrorist groups all throughout the year.
“Despite the challenges, we have stood our ground, and have never flinched. This year’s challenges have not been hindrances, rather, they gave us motivation to be more resolute in our efforts because our people needed us more than ever,” Gapay said. “Rest assured that we will continue to perform our mandated tasks of protecting the Filipino people and securing the state in order to ultimately realize the Filipinos’ vision of a secure, peaceful, vibrant, modern, and prosperous nation.”