AFP Chief of Staff
General Andres Centino became the AFP Chief of Staff on November 12, 2021, the 11th and last appointee in the six years of the presidency of Rodrigo R. Duterte.
BY EDWIN P. GALVEZ
PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENJIE TOLENTINO
HMUA BY KLENG TOTANES
General Andres “Andy” Castor Centino—born to a family of dedicated “government workers” in Tacloban, Leyte and raised in a military family in Cebu—has endured some of the most treacherous terrains in the far-flung and remote areas of the country, fighting lawless elements, particularly communist insurgents, but it has never occurred to him he would one day become chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Known as the “combat general” who himself endured the toil of serving in the frontlines as a soldier, Centino became the AFP chief of staff (CSAFP)on November 12, 2021, the 11th and last appointee in the six years of the presidency of Rodrigo R. Duterte.
He had just completed six months of facing challenges and pushing victories in his post then as commanding general of the Philippine Army (PA) when he took over the helm.
The year before, in the midst of the raging COVID-19 pandemic, he was leading the troops in Cagayan de Oro as the commander of the 4th Infantry “Diamond” Division (4ID) of the PA while concurrently heading its Joint Task Force Diamond.
“Umabot lang sa ganito (It just came to this point),” he tells LEAGUE Magazine in his well-mannered demeanor when asked if this fell along a plan.
“I was in the field in Mindanao then, so I didn’t know that a year after I will be here having this interview,” he chuckles in disbelief.
It is, indeed, no joke being the chief of staff of the AFP, he admits. But Centino a victorious veteran of many wars in both the personal and professional sense is ready.
“I think it helped a lot that I had experience mostly in the field handling men and exposed to so many critical situations that really demanded so much of one’s leadership abilities,” he says.
HIS FATHER’S SON
The battle-tested soldier began his tour of duty after graduating with honors in 1988 as a member of the “Maringal” class of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).
The general recalls being literally “left by his father,” the late Flaviano Centino Sr., as he began his studies to become a soldier. The latter encouraged his son to take the academy’s entrance examinations, accompanied him from Cebu to then Victoriano Luna General Hospital (now AFP Medical Center) for physical examinations and later brought him to the academy itself in Baguio City.
A military lawyer who served in the infantry, his father—together with his mother and four siblings—migrated to the United States (US) after he entered the academy in 1984.
“I was the only one left in the country. [My father said] ‘Bahala ka na (It’s now up to you),’” he says.
The elder Centino seemed utterly sure his eldest son was “all ready” for the rigorous character, academic, military, and physical training in the academy and, later on, in joining the force.
The general realizes though that one could never be prepared enough. “I had no idea what would happen then,” he says.
But as fate would have it, Centino assumed various leadership roles that helped raise the
bar of service excellence in the military—of which the badges, medals and decorations on his uniform would prove.
These tested his mettle and determination in effectively leading his men on the ground to directing successful missions in the field to strategic planning and intelligence-driven
operations that achieved their goals.
He became commander of the 26th Infantry Battalion in 2008, secretary in the Army General Staff in 2013, commander of the 401st Infantry Brigade in 2017 and the deputy chief of staff for operations, organization and training (J3) of the AFP in 2019. Under his leadership, which began on May 29, 2020, the 4ID was declared the “Fightingest Division” for its offensive operations against the communist insurgents and the “Best Army Major Unit” of 2020.
Centino was later appointed the 64th commanding general of the Philippine Army (CGPA) on May 14, 2021. As the AFP said in its congratulatory statement, he had “immense knowledge and experience” to lead the country’s troops, making him a “competent leader for the armed forces’ mission.”
His father’s profession “intrigued” him for being away from his family most of the time, a reality that Centino himself would experience in raising his own family. This, however, made him more curious about soldiery since his father spent time at home only during vacations.
“I would see soldiers a lot when I stayed in the camp, including my father as this military person,” he says of his father’s influence. “My father was doing many things, so it sparked
my curiosity: ‘What is the work of a soldier? Why should he be away from his family?’” He knew that being a military officer’s son—even when he had completed the first two years of an engineering course—laid the foundation for his “possible future.”
That future took him to many places here and abroad for training in military leadership, intelligence and warfighting competencies. These include the Basic Airborne Course, Infantry Officer Basic and Advance Courses, and VIP Security Operations Training. He graduated at the top of his class in the Scout Ranger Course, and also finished his Command and General Staff Course at the AFP Command and General Staff College where he graduated among the top ten in his class.
Pursuing further studies, Centino completed his master of science degree in National Resource Strategy at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. in the US. He earlier took up his master’s in management at the University of the Philippines (UP) and finished the Strategic Business Economics Program at the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P). But Centino couldn’t be prouder of the selfless public service rendered by his mother, the former Araceli Castor, a school teacher and probation officer, and his grandparents who worked all their lives as government employees. “They were all government workers, and you get encouraged especially [when] they’re your role models and they served really well,” he says.
LEADERSHIP BY EXAMPLE
Inheriting his family’s dedication and commitment to duty, Centino’s integrity becomes more evident in the three decades of his leadership not through words but action. And when he says something, he makes sure he walks the talk.
“Your actions and your words must match. It has been my [leadership] style ever since. As the saying goes, ‘When actions and words contradict, you look at the actions,’” he says.
“You really have to lead by example,” he adds. Instead of “saying or directing,” Centino says “you have to show it yourself [in] the way you behave, talk, and act. Show them that you can do the task, no matter how difficult it is.”
His persistence, professionalism and being armed with a “real sense of purpose” have earned for Centino the respect of men and women in the field.
As a “problem-solver” kind of commander, he listens to his soldiers and provides solutions for the good of all. He remains true to his values no matter what, especially in “small instances or ordinary moments” in the course of accomplishing a mission.
“When I was a lieutenant, [I made sure that] the value of persistence and obedience, the sense of professionalism [remained]. Na kahit ano’ng hirap, kahit ano’ng conditions, tuloy-tuloy pa rin (However hard or whatever the conditions are, you have to see it through),” he says.
Centino showed through action that anything can be done by soldiers even at a young age or toiling with fellow soldiers older than they are—a situation he himself went through.
In the course of leading, he says, it is important to “set the direction” and pursue “doable goals.”
“You make your intent and your plans clear so that you are assured that they understand you. It would be hard when you give vague directions because you will not get the result that you intend,” he says.
To achieve an end, Centino also provides details, which he believes is “the most important thing to assure compliance to what you’re directing or giving out.”
“In some situations though, you only need to set the direction, and you’ll be amazed of the creativity [of the personnel],” he says, knowing that it also takes time for subordinates to adapt to one’s leadership style. This is why Centino couldn’t afford to rest even when he needs to because his sense of duty dictates that “you have to do it despite the difficult circumstances.” “Knowing that there’s a job to do and no one else can do it and people look to you for what you will do [next] keeps me moving,” he says. But he also finds fulfillment as CSAFP when he goes to the farthest hinterland deployments to visit soldiers in the frontlines. “I really find satisfaction in meeting the soldiers out there who I have not met, yet are doing their jobs, sacrificing so much and sharing maybe my misfortune of being away from their families,” he says.
He always tells them not to worry because “it is not forever.” “I also went through that, and sooner or later, when you do your job and do it well, you will be recognized and someday be also given a chance to assume my position,” he shares. Centino’s exemplary leadership and dedication to duty have been recognized over the course of his service. His awards and decorations include four Distinguished Service Stars, a Gold Cross Medal, a Silver Cross Medal, a Bronze Cross Medal, CSAFP Commendation Medal and Ribbon, a Long Service Medal, a number of merit medals both for combat and administration and several certificates of commendation and appreciation from both the military and civilian sectors.
In all these, Centino remains a man of humility who inspires the men and women endure the “harsh elements, loneliness and the everpresent threat from the enemies” every day in the field—that one will get what he deserves if he works hard for it.