AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. facilitates the passing of the leadership flag of Western Command (WESCOM) to Lt. Gen. Erickson Gloria from Vice Adm. Rene Medina, the outgoing commander on May 28, 2020. (Photo courtesy of WESCOM)

Lieutenant General Erickson Gloria, the newly-installed commander of the Western Command (WESCOM), has vowed to perform “proactively” in asserting the country’s “sovereignty and sovereign rights” in the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS) to deter intrusions and incursions.

In his speech during the change of command ceremony Thursday between him and outgoing WESCOM commander Vice Adm. Rene Medina, Gloria said his headship of the command will do this by conducting territorial defense operations and maintaining an effective presence in the Kalayaan Islands Group (KIG).

“On external security, we will remain proactive in asserting our sovereignty and sovereign rights in the WPS by conducting territorial defense operations in our maritime jurisdiction and maintaining an effective presence to deter intrusions and incursions,” he said.

“We will devote our resources in enhancing maritime domain awareness in the KIG and maintain vital maritime checkpoints and sea lanes of communications and sustain the development of occupied areas,” Gloria added.

Gloria, a decorated rescue pilot, said under his command, WESCOM will continue to support the national government’s “Whole-of-Nation” approach in the WPS with the national task force and the Joint Task Force West (JTF West) in addressing threats to the “dynamic environment”.

Internal security

On internal security, Gloria said WESCOM will exert relentless efforts to prevent the rebels from spreading harm and violence in Palawan.

WESCOM will continue its two-pronged approach against the New People’s Army (NPA), which is conducting focused military operations (FMOs) along with the implementation of community support programs (CSPs) which have been proven to be effective.

“We will continue our two-pronged approach of conducting FMOs along with the conduct of community support programs which are effective in decreasing the number of communist terrorist groups (CTGs). Likewise, pursuant to our role in the national task force and to end the local communist armed conflict, WESCOM will exert all efforts to defeat the CTGs and their support structure,” he said.

Gloria also said WESCOM will remain a part of the united effort with other government agencies in establishing “conflict-resilient and developed communities”.

Malampaya gas project

Gloria’s WESCOM leadership, he said, will also work to safeguard the operation of the offshore Malampaya Natural Gas Project (MNGP), the country’s deepwater gas-condensate reservoir, located in the Service Contract 38 license area.

He said it will also use learnings and established best practices from Joint Task Force Malampaya (JTF Malampaya) and apply them in the crafting of doctrines and strategies to protect the decommissioned Nido and Matinloc oil fields in northwest Palawan.

The oil fields ceased operation in November 2019 after 40 years of producing around18.9 million barrels of oil.

He said he was given guidance by the chief of staff, Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., to take care of the two platforms.

“Just this morning, the chief of staff and his party with myself, visited these two platforms and the chief of staff gave his additional guidance to look into requirements on how we could further improve the facilities. He has given his full support on this,” he said.

WESCOM in COVID-19 frontline

In support of the local government units (LGUs) against the coronavirus disease pandemic, Gloria said WESCOM will safeguard fellow Palaweños in enforcing crucial interventions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We are given the additional duty of being frontliners in supporting the government to implement measures that will protect Filipinos and help mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Our soldiers will remain vigilant in maintaining order and enforcing the rules under this new normal,” he said.

Before his assignment in Palawan as WESCOM chief, Gloria was formerly the deputy chief of staff for personnel, J1; wing commander, 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing; deputy commander, Air Mobility Command; and deputy commander, Air Logistics Command.

Medina, on the other hand, thanked Palaweños for supporting his leadership of the Western Command. He rendered his service from March 2019 to May 2020.

“All of us here share a moral involvement in sustaining peace and protection of Palawan. As I held the commandership of this unique unified command, it is my hope that WESCOM will remain steadfast — alam ko na ang ating mga nasimulan ay magpapatuloy, maraming salamat sa inyong lahat,” Medina said.

General Felimon Santos Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff, presided the change of command and retirement ceremony in honor of Medina.

He lauded Medina who led WESCOM for 14 months in securing and sustaining peace in Palawan.

(With reports from Celeste Anna Formoso)