FORT BONIFACIO, Taguig City –A veteran in the Mindanao conflict and a peace advocate has been designated as the new Commander of the Army's premiere training institution, a military official said.
Major Harold M Cabunoc, the Army Spokesperson, said that Brigadier General Benito Antonio T de Leon, took over as Commander of the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), replacing Major General Joel P Ibañez who was earlier installed as Commander of the 5th Infantry Division.
A Turn-Over Ceremony presided by Army Chief Lieutenant General Emmanuel T Bautista was held at the TRADOC Headquarters in Camp O’Donnell, Capas, Tarlac at about 9 a.m. today.
It was attended by senior military officials and well-wishers both from civilian and military sector. Several 'mistahs' of De Leon from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) 'Dimalupig' Class of 1981 also came to witness the big event.
De Leon spent most of his combat duties in Mindanao, leading a platoon of soldiers under the 12th Infantry Battalion, 3rdInfantry Division in the 1980s.
From 1999-2000, he commanded the 58th Infantry Battalion, 4th Infantry Division which saw action against MILF rebels during the time of former President Estrada.
He saw himself leading soldiers in the frontlines during the so-called 'all out war' against the MILF rebels who committed atrocities against hapless civilians during that time.
Knowing the exact nature of the conflict in Muslim Mindanao, De Leon used different approach in carrying out military operations in his unit's area of operations.
“In the many atrocities that happened in the area, I went in between our soldiers and the Muslim communities. I made our soldiers understand that the Muslims are our brothers, and that we are fellow Filipinos. I told them to treat the communities as if they are conducting operations in their own hometowns,” he said.
He said that he ensured that established communities will not be bombarded with artillery fires and civilians be protected against harm.
He also veered away from the established directive in employing 'MNLF integrees' into his unit. As former foes, regular soldiers were not comfortable working side by side with the former rebels.
“At that time also, the MNLF integration program was already implemented and my unit was a recipient of the first 'integrees'. The practice back then was to separate the integrees from the regular force and put them into one unit. I, on the other hand, innovated to realistically and truly integrate the former MNLF rebels into the regular force, merging them into the squads,” De Leon said.
He said that his decision was met with passive resistance by his troops, but he was able to convince his troops to trust their fellow soldiers.
"The MNLF integrees appreciated my decision. They were all happy that I treated them as 'co-equals' in the unit," said De Leon.
His unit became one of the best performers in the 4th Infantry Division due to the excellent teamwork shown by his soldiers.
After the conclusion of the battles for the Narciso Ramos Highway, people in the communities of Lanao del Sur sought for him to express their gratitude for his professionalism and remarkable deed of protecting civilian communities.
He was conferred the honorary title as Sultan Romapunut sa Lumbayanague in Lanao del Sur as a gesture of the people's appreciation.
In 2008, he led the Joint Task Force GENSAN (JTFGENSAN) under the 10th Infantry Division and led his team in confronting terrorist threats in General Santos City.
He was the Commander of the 104th Brigade which confronted the marauding MILF elements under Commander Bravo, after the failed signing of MOA on Ancestral Domain with the MILF in 2008.
He was responsible for bringing back peace and stability in Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur through his effective implementation of security patrols and consultations with the local stakeholders.
Trusted with the responsibility of keeping the peace in Central Mindanao after the infamous 'Maguindanao Massacre' in 2009, his unit was deployed to the area when the province was placed under the state of 'Martial Law'.
De Leon said that he is happy that both the government and the MILF panels have finally reached an agreement to forge lasting peace in Mindanao.
“The Aquino administration is giving peace a chance. As professional soldiers it is our duty to win the peace.”
De Leon also assumed major and sensitive posts both in the AFP and the Philippine Army. He was the former Senior Military Assistant to the DND Secretary before he was designated as Chief of the AFP Command Center.
His latest post was being the Acting Commandant of the AFP Command and General Staff College in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
De Leon sees his designation as TRADOC Commander as an opportunity to contribute in attaining the vision of the Philippine Army towards “a world-class Army that is a source of national pride”.
“Even as I am honored by this designation, I am even more excited to lead TRADOC at this time as it is presently at the forefront in attaining one of the major thrust of the Army towards an Enhanced Education and Training Program,” said de Leon.
He also emphasized that he will endeavor to align the training and doctrinal systems and procedures with the IPSP Bayanihan and the Army Transformation Roadmap.
“I understand that the former commander had already put in place some foundations to this effect. I am very happy and I feel honored that I am now in the forefront to help the Army translate these two strategic precepts into operational terms - techniques, tactics and procedures (TTPs), and mainstream this into various training programs of the Army so that our officers will be able to appreciate not only the conceptual dynamics, but also how to implement these on the ground,” concluded de Leon.