Can bemedalled officer fix Basilan's problems?

MANILA, Philippines - The youngest officer to command a brigade in the military has been named new chief of Army troops in Basilan, marking the 3rd leadership change in the island-province in 9 months.

The reputation of Col Carlito "Charlie"  Galvez Jr precedes him. A 1985 graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Galvez has received 4 times the military's 3rd highest award, the Gold Cross Medal, for his battlefield victories. He once commanded a Scout Ranger battalion that was assigned in Sulu and Basilan. Beyond operations, he's also armed with a masters degree from Australia and an Eisenhower fellowship.

The 49-year-old Galvez replaced Col Arthur Ang as commander of the Basilan-based 104th infantry brigade; Ang stayed in his post for only around 3 months. Ang was relieved after the killing of 10 Army soldiers in Sumisip town last July 26.

Late last year, the military sent Col Ricardo Visaya to command the brigade in Basilan. He became the transition commander following the military's decision to dismantle Basilan's Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) composed of the elite Rangers and Special Forces, and return a brigade set-up in the province.

The SOTF was involved in the infamous Al-Barka incident in October 2011 which killed 19 soldiers, most of whom were on training and unfamiliar with Basilan's terrain. The province is the birthplace of the Abu Sayyaf, and plays host to other armed groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and "lost commands" of the Moro National Liberation Front.

In April this year, the Armed Forces high command approved court-martial proceedings against 4 officers linked to the Al-Barka fiasco: Lt. Col Leonardo Peña, former Commanding Officer of the 4th Special Forces Battalion; Col Alexander Macario, former Commander of Special Operations Task Force–Basilan Province; Col Amikandra.Undug, former Regiment Commander of Special Forces Regiment (Airborne), Special Operations Command (Socom);  and Lt Col Orlando Edralin, former Commandant of Special Forces School, SOCOM.

The 4 were accused of violating Article 84 (Willful or Negligent Loss, Damage or Wrongful Disposition); Article 96 (Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and Gentleman); and Article 97 (Disorders and Neglects to the Prejudice of Good Order and Military Discipline) of the Articles of War. They sent troops, mostly trainees, to a known stronghold of the MILF without proper coordination with other ground commanders.

The carnage caused presidential scolding and a review of Basilan's elite command structure. The military then decided to go conventional again and assign a brigade commander - Visaya - to oversee the task force in the province. Under the new structure, Task Force Basilan, composed of elite units (Rangers and Special Forces), were made to report directly to the brigade commander, who also had infantry troops under his command.

Swapping posts

But Visaya was eventually made to swap posts with Ang, who was sacked in April as commander of the 901st brigade based in Albay after a rebel attack at an airport construction there.

Why a relieved commander was assigned to Basilan baffled not a few. And Basilan proved to be a tougher terrain for Ang.

Thus after only 3 months, Ang was replaced by Galvez on Thursday, August 2. Galvez is the youngest military officer to head a brigade, according to Maj Harold Cabunoc, Army spokesman.

Galvez is under the operational control of the Army's 1st infantry division based in Zamboanga del Sur, who also has a relatively new commander, veteran intelligence officer Maj Gen Rainier Cruz. The general is known to combine civic relations and combat in his operations. (Editor's note: We earlier said that the division headquarters is based in Lanao. It's based in Zamboanga del Sur. We apologize for the error.)

Basilan has had a tough year.

Before the July 26 clash between the Army and suspected Abu Sayyaf members, 6 farmworkers were killed in an ambush in Sumisip town, which has huge rubber plantations, early July. Last April, 3 civilian militias guarding a rubber plantation also in Sumisip were also killed.

The killings prompted Mujiv Hataman, governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, to convene the province's peace and order council on Tuesday, July 31. Hataman's family is from Sumisip. His brother, Jim Salliman, once served as Sumisip mayor.

Return to Basilan

Prior to his Basilan assignment, Galvez headed the operations division of the office of the AFP deputy chief of staff for operations (J3) in Camp Aguinaldo for about 3 years. He's among the crafters of the military's new counter-insurgency plan Bayanihan.

A decade ago, he commanded a Ranger battalion in Basilan that helped run after Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sabaya. "He's well respected, diligent and dependable with an awesome combat track record," said Col Daniel Lucero, one of the battalion commanders who worked with Galvez in Basilan during that time.

Galvez also served as chief of operations of the Army's 2nd infantry division based in Tanay, Rizal, where he combined development work with combat in fighting insurgents.

It augurs well for him that a PMA classmate and a fellow Ranger, Col Ramon Yogyog, is the commander of Task Force Basilan, which commands the Rangers and Special Forces in the province. Yogyog reports to him.

Whether they're the perfect match that has eluded Basilan since Al-Barka remains to be seen. - Rappler.com

 

Glenda M. Gloria

Glenda Gloria is the managing editor of Rappler and one of its co-founders. A journalist for three decades now, Glenda has been a reporter for newspapers, magazines, and wire agencies, and has run print, online, and TV newsrooms. She is a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Class 2018 .

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