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Army thanks Noy for support, concern

President Aquino looks on as government troopers ride on armored personnel carriers during the 119th founding anniversary of the Philippine Army at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City yesterday.

MANILA, Philippines – Celebrating their founding anniversary with President Aquino for the last time yesterday, Army troops and officers thanked their commander-in-chief for the “support and concern” of the Chief Executive, who has been like a good father to the military.

Army personnel expressed their gratitude to Aquino during their pass in review at the end of the ceremony for their 119th founding anniversary held in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

In one of the floats where the Army showcased its role in relief and rescue operations in times of disasters, their message read: “Mahal na Pangulo, marami pong salamat sa suporta at malasakit (To our dear President, thank you for the support and concern).”

In his speech, the President told the Army he could not help but be personal because “we have come full circle.”

“You know, when I was still very young and most probably those from my generation would remember this: There was a TV series titled ‘Combat.’ Because of this, I would say I wanted to be a soldier... There was no PlayStation yet at the time, so our games were about cowboys and Indians and toy guns,” Aquino said.

But when martial law came, the President said his view about soldiers changed because right in Fort Bonifacio and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, his late father, the martyred former senator Benigno Jr., was detained for seven years and seven months for opposing the dictatorship.

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Aquino said it was during this time that he and his family met Voltaire Gazmin, now defense secretary, who was one of his father’s guards who treated him decently.

“…because of his professionalism, Secretary Gazmin’s reward from the dictatorship: getting thrown to Mindanao from 1975 to 1986,” the President said.

“If I may stress: the detention cell of my father and many others were preserved as a reminder of that chapter in our history when the Armed Forces was used and led astray by the one who promised to serve the nation,” Aquino said.

The President said many of those from the military indeed went astray, thinking that they were adhering to the Constitution by following the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

“You were alienated from the people and one of its results was the number of NPA (New People’s Army) members that ballooned from 60 to 25,000 armed people in its ranks by the end of martial law,” the President said.

But with the guidance of his mother Corazon, who assumed the presidency after the dictator was ousted in 1986, the Armed Forces of the Philippines went back to the side of the people.

Aquino said he continued with the legacy and took care of the military and the rest of the uniformed services.

The nation also returned the military’s service with a more solid concern for their success, including in the operations against Communist Party of the Philippines acting chair Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma, the CPP secretary-general and Eugenia Magpantay-Topacio, the secretary of CPP-NPA’s Central Luzon Regional Committee, who are now all under detention.

Under his administration, the President said the Army implemented 1.3 million operations against enemies of the state and completely freed 50 out of 76 provinces affected by NPA’s atrocities.

“This is the image that you will leave behind to the ordinary Filipino: a Philippine Army and Armed Forces that are always reliable, a partner in pushing for stability and order in our communities. From here sprang the confidence needed to advance progress,” Aquino said.

Aquino said the Army had been on the frontlines every time typhoons and other disasters would strike the country – from clearing roads to rescuing people and bringing relief and assistance, like during Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

“In all these actions, you knew that our bosses (the people) were behind you, and in the end, a virtuous cycle of trust, cooperation and positive transformation for the good of everyone was developed,” the President.

“This is the Army and AFP that I will pass on as commander-in-chief bidding farewell: A force with a very high morale and very much ready to face any challenge; a force that carries with it the recognition and respect of the people; a force that is professional and with strong principles,” Aquino said.

The President said it was a great honor to serve as their leader and commander-in-chief treading the straight path.

“Someday, I can look back at this point of history with pride: With the Army and the rest of the AFP, we did the right thing and lived up to the truth that ‘The Filipino is definitely worth fighting for,’” Aquino said, thanking all of those composing the Army.

Stay neutral

Having been like a father who could not bear to neglect the needs of his children, Aquino said he was hoping the Army and the military would make use of its “monopoly of armed power” to push for whatever was right and justiciable that would bring the country to a better, fairer and more peaceful tomorrow.

“That is why, this coming elections, the people’s order to us is clear: Stay on their side, do not meddle in politics and ensure that a united voice in a country treading the path of democracy will prevail,” the President said.

In fulfilling their mandate, Aquino said Gazmin, AFP chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri and Army chief Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año would provide them guidance.

Aquino then enumerated the programs and projects of his government for the modernization of the military and said these were bigger than that of the past three administrations combined.

He said the Army commanding general himself cited the modern assets that were now in the hands of their force.

Out of the 68 big ticket projects worth P58.43 billion for the AFP, 26 or P7.79 billion went to the improvement of the Army’s knowledge, capabilities and awareness, Aquino said.

Año announced the Army had acquired new armored assets as well as other war-fighting equipment.

“We already have received 56,843 new R4 assault rifles to replace the Vietnam-era rifles we are currently using, 124 units of armored vehicles to include six armored vehicles with remote-controlled weapon systems, 60 field ambulance units and more than 300 light utility vehicles,” he said.

He added the Army’s command-and-control effectiveness in any kind of field operations greatly improved with the acquisition of more than 2,000 radios and other communication equipment.

The Army is also expecting deliveries this year of additional infantry fighting vehicles and fire support vehicles, 155 mm howitzers, light utility vehicles, 60 mm mortars, 40 mm grenade launchers, rocket launchers and 50-watt armored vehicle configuration radios.

The Army Transformation Roadmap from 2010 to 2028 was also implemented to strengthen the culture of effectiveness and good governance within their ranks.

Some 61,000 housing units were also completed under the AFP-Philippine National Police Housing Program and the President said Army personnel were among the beneficiaries.

The President also said livelihood programs were launched in various military camps along with assistance for medical and other needs.

Aquino said monthly combat pay for military members in operation was increased along with the subsistence allowance for everyone in the uniformed sector. Aquino signed Executive Order No. 201 covering the raise in their monthly hazard pay as well as provisional and officers’ allowances. – With Jaime Laude

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