Lieutenant General Hernando Iriberri is the new chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Iriberri entered military service in 1983 after graduating from the Philippine Military Academy and steadily climbed through the ranks.
As an army commander, Iriberri directed a number of successful offensives against Abu Sayaaf, an Islamic terrorist group, and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the southern Philippines. He also helped deescalate tensions between the government and a group of army officers who featured prominently in a high-profile coup attempt in 1989.
Iriberri has served as the army’s spokesperson and chief of public affairs, commanded its rapid-response force, and from 2002 to 2004 directed the most successful division of the military’s anti-separatist battalion. Iriberri has also taken part in UN peacekeeping in Iraq.
Why is he in the news?
President Benigno Aquino on July 10 appointed Iriberri the new chief of staff of the military, replacing Gregorio Catapang, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 56. Iriberri will serve for less than a year, until next April when he too reaches 56.
What can we expect from him?
Iriberri’s 10-month tenure comes at a critical time for the Philippines’ security. He will be responsible for overseeing the ongoing modernization of the Philippine military amid growing tensions with China over disputes in the South China Sea. The government has earmarked over $22 billion in military spending for the next 13 years and plans to acquire modern aircraft, ships, radars, missiles, and other equipment for the navy, air force, and coast guard.
Aquino meanwhile hopes to begin implementing his government’s peace agreement with the MILF, if the Philippine Congress passes the implementing legislation, before his term ends in 2016. The MILF has started to lay down some of its arms, and Iriberri’s role in ensuring a level a stability in Mindanao will be crucial for boosting support for the peace process among lawmakers and the public.
Iriberri’s new army chief, Eduardo Año, has said his focus will be fighting the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the hopes of reducing its numbers to less than 1,000 from over 6,000 today. Human rights advocates fear a renewed anti-communist campaign will also target nonviolent leftist activists.