Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Saturday cut short the term of the military chief of staff he appointed five months ago and replaced him with a retiring general without explaining the surprise move.
Mr Marcos’s office announced the replacement of Lt Gen Bartolome Bacarro, who had received the country's highest military award for combat bravery as a young army officer, in a statement issued late on Friday that did not specify any reason for the change.
Lt Gen Bacarro’s three-year term was supposed to end in August 2025.
The appointment of military chiefs is a sensitive issue in the Philippines. The military has a history of restiveness, failed coup attempts, corruption scandals and has faced accusations of human rights violations.
Efforts have been made for years to instill professionalism in the military and insulate it from the country’s traditionally chaotic and corruption-tainted politics.
Mr Marcos installed Lt Gen Andres Centino, the military chief of staff who Gen Bacarro replaced in August last year, as the new head of the 144,000-strong armed forces.
Lt Gen Centino, who was due to retire next month, was chosen over a dozen senior generals and will have a new three-year term.
Asked for reaction on his removal, Lt Gen Bacarro said in a text message that the military would support the new chief.
A new law that took effect last year fixed the term of the military chief of staff to three years to allow a senior general more time to initiate reforms and modernise the underfunded armed forces.
The military is pressing a years-long campaign against Muslim and communist insurgencies and faces increasingly aggressive actions by China in the disputed South China Sea, where the Philippines lays claim to contested islands, islets and reefs with other coastal states.
In a handover ceremony at the main military camp in the capital on Saturday, Lt Gen Bacarro presented a sabre symbolising military leadership to Lt Gen Centino and thanked the army, his family and the president.
Mr Marcos did not attend but was represented by his close advisers, including Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin.
Mr Bersamin stressed in his speech that he was impressed by the smooth transition in the military's leadership, which he said should be emulated by politicians to avoid disruptive post-election unrest like in the US.
“Continue with this tradition, where you respect each other, where you give so much consideration to the qualifications of your fellow officers in order to enable your organisation … to move forward instead of looking back,” he said.
He said Mr Marcos had asked him and other presidential advisers to show the “highest respect” to Lt Gen Bacarro for his battlefield exploits and hinted that he may be given another government post after the end of his military career.
In 1991, Lt Gen Bacarro received a medal for thwarting an attack by about 150 communist guerrillas on a northern Philippine town despite commanding a smaller force.
Wounded in the thigh by rebel fire, he commandeered a rubbish truck and rammed a fence to allow government militiamen, who were pinned down, to escape.
His sudden removal follows a decision by the national police chief, Gen Rodolfo Azurin Jr, to tender his resignation on Thursday after the Interior Secretary appealed to nearly 1,000 police generals and colonels to quit and allow a committee to investigate and weed out officials involved in drugs.
Gen Azurin asked senior police officials to support Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos’s drastic move. But he added that some generals opposed the call for them to resign within the month because they were not facing any criminal lawsuits and had not been linked to the drugs trade.