Battle-seasoned general new chief of key Mindanao command

MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – A battle-seasoned general is the new chief of a critical military command in Mindanao.

Major General Carlito Galvez Jr replaced Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) chief Lieutenant General Mayoralgo dela Cruz in a change of command ceremony Tuesday morning, January 17.

Galvez now heads the military command responsible for fighting local terrorist groups and protecting peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), two areas that President Rodrigo Duterte had directed the military to focus on. 

Dela Cruz, who is retiring in May, is moving to the headquarters in Manila to become the military's inspector general. The movement was necessary because of a new target set by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to significantly weaken local terrorist groups Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group by June 2017, according to AFP spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla. 

The 53-year-old Galvez brings to the post a rich combat and administrative experience dealing with threat groups in one of the most violent areas in the country, as the Duterte administration strives to implement a peace deal with the MILF.

The appointment of Galvez to the Westmincom is a "perfect fit" because the problem in the area cannot be solved by a purely military solution, said Padilla.

Galvez had served as the commander of the 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao. He was then tasked to protect the government's ceasefire with the MILF based in the province, and to deal with various peace spoilers such as the MILF breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). 

Galvez has open communication lines with the MILF leadership as he had served as  co-chairman of the Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) that monitors the government and MILF ceasefire, and investigates alleged violations.

Galvez had worked with MILF leaders to keep the ceasefire intact after the January 2015 Mamasapano bloodbath that killed elite cops and sparked national outrage.

Galvez also fought the Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan when he became the youngest commander of the 104th infantry brigade from 2012 to 2013. He led military operations to prevent rogue members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) based in Basilan from reinforcing the fighters led by Habier Malik during the Zamboanga siege in 2013.

He also served critical administrative positions. Before getting the 6th ID post, Galvez was AFP deputy chief for operations and, before that, Wesmincom's deputy commander for the peace process.

Galvez is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1985. – with reports from Richard Falcatan/Rappler.com