San Jose, Antique, March 29, 2003 -- President Arroyo has confirmed that 
Lt. Gen. Narciso Abaya, Southern Command chief, will succeed Armed Forces 
chief Gen. Dionisio Santiago who retires April 8.

In an impromptu press conference at the inauguration of the Evelio Javier 
airport here, Arroyo said she believes Abaya would be "a great (and) maybe 
one of the greatest chiefs-of-staff in our history."

The President said Abaya has many qualities which she admires.

She said the most important of these is that Abaya "has a great war record 
as a field commander and he has an excellent reputation for integrity."

Abaya is a 1971 graduate of the US Military Academy.

The contenders were Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia, vice chief of staff; Lt. Gen. 
Ernesto Carolina, deputy chief of staff; Lt. Gen. Gregorio Camiling, Army 
chief; Lt. Gen. Nestor Santillan, Air Force chief, and Rear Admiral Ernesto 
de Leon, Navy chief.

Abaya has been in the military service for 33 years. He was AFP deputy 
chief of staff prior to his designation as Southcom chief.

He is the fifth armed forces chief to serve under the two-year-old Arroyo 
administration. The four others are Angelo Reyes, Diomedio Villanueva, Roy 
Cimatu, and Benjamin Defensor.

In naming Abaya, Arroyo bypassed Camiling for the fourth time.

Camiling, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy class 69, is the 
most senior among the contenders.

Abaya, who is due to retire in October 2004, is a holder of master of 
science in civil engineering from Lehigh University and master of science 
in business administration from UP Diliman.

At West Point, Abaya was a consistent Dean's Lister. He is the only 
Filipino to hold the rank of cadet captain in the Corps of Cadets.

After graduating from West Point, Abaya served in engineering and other 
non-combat positions. In 1988, he got his first combat assignment as 
battalion commander.

A native of Caoayan, Ilocos Sur, Abaya is a recipient of the Distinguished 
Service Star, Philippine Legion of Honor, Bronze Cross Medal and Silver 
Wing Medal, among other awards.

Abaya assumed the Southcom post in October last year, replacing Carolina 
who was sacked following the spate of bombings in the South.

In January, Arroyo introduced Abaya as the incoming chief of staff. The 
next day Ignacio Bunye, presidential spokesman, clarified the introduction 
was made in jest.

Among Abaya's accomplishments as Southcom chief was the capture of MILF's 
Camp Buliok complex in Central Mindanao and the killing of Abu chieftain 

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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