MINDANAO AFP MEN WELCOME ABAYA APPOINTMENT

Davao City, Jan. 23, 2003 (By Al Jacinto, PHNO reporter) - President Gloria Arroyo has announced that Southern Philippines military commander Lt. Gen. Narciso Abaya would be the next Armed Forces chief.

A regional military spokesman Major Julieto Ando said the announcement was made Tuesday in the town of Mamasapano in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao where President Arroyo visited. "That was the pronouncement she made Tuesday during her visit in Mamasapano, Maguindanao," Ando said.

President Arroyo made the announcement again Tuesday night in Marco Polo hotel in Davao City during a speaking engagement. Abaya, a 1971 graduate of the US West Point military academy, would assume the position in April when Philippine military chief Gen. Dionisio Santiago retires.

The appoinment of Abaya as the country's next military chief was welcomed by troops in the southern Philippines. Soldiers at the Southern Command in Zamboanga City were jubilant over the announcement. "He deserves it because he is one of the best in the Philippine military. Not only he is a decorated officer, General Abaya is well respected by many," Army Sergeant Nicolas Santos.

Philippine military commanders in the southern Philippines also backed Abaya, described by many as "the best man for the job."

Abaya served as Army brigade commander in Zamboanga del Sur province in the 1980s and then promoted to division commander, in-charged of battling Muslim and communist rebels in Mindanao. He was also instrumental for the rescue of many Abu Sayyaf hostages in Basilan and Jolo islands in the late 1990s as commanmder of an atniterrorist task force.

He was promoted as armed forces deputy chief until last year and then sent back to Southern Command in October last year to lead the government's offensive against the Abu Sayyaf and the New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Mindanao.

Dozens of rebels were captured and scores have surrendered to the military since Abaya assumed as Southern Command chief, a military spokesperson here said.


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