The former spokesman of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin is the new commanding general of the Philippine Army, according to reliable sources.
From a list of 3 nominees, President Benigno Aquino III picked Major General Hernando Iriberri, commander of the 7th Infantry Division based in Nueva Ecija, to replace retiring Army chief Lieutenant General Noel Coballes, senior military officers told Rappler.
This information was confirmed by a classmate of Iriberri at the Philipine Military Academy (PMA) who was invited to the turnover ceremony in Fort Bonifacio on Friday, February 7.
The President met with Gazmin and Armed Forces chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista Thursday afternoon, February 6.
A 1983 PMA graduate, Iriberri beat the two other contenders for the post who are more senior than him, including his own commanding general at the Northern Luzon Command, Lt Gen Gregorio Catapang. He is a 1981 PMA graduate.
The other contender was Central Command chief Major General John Bonafos, the previous chief of the elite Special Operations Command and a 1982 PMA graduate.
Iriberri enjoys the backing of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, who is very close to the President. (READ: Voltaire Gazmin: The Untouchable)
He was Gazmin's former spokesman (when Gazmin was Army chief) and senior military assistant at the defense department before he became the commander of the Army's 503rd Brigade in Abra and later 7th ID chief.
Iriberri will reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on April 22, 2016, two months before President Aquino steps down from office.
Following the seniority tradition in the military, the logical choice would have been a member of PMA classes 1981 or 1982. But seniority is only one of the criteria for the post, and President Aquino himself is not too rigid about it.
He broke this tradition when he named Bautista as Army chief in 2011 and AFP chief in 2012. Bautista bypassed commanders more senior than him. (READ: Son of slain general is new AFP chief)
In an earlier interview with Rappler, Iriberri lamented criticism that he was nominated to the post largely because of his ties to Gazmin. "It's unfair to the President. Ultimately, he will make the decision," Iriberri said.
[Video: Army chief contenders