Gazmin bids farewell to AFP; incoming AFP chief eyes 24/7 ops vs. Abu Sayyaf

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Tuesday capped more than four decades of service in the military and the Cabinet with a mix of gains and setbacks.

Speaking to soldiers and civilians gathered in ceremonies to bid farewell to one of the Cabinet members most trusted by President Benigno Aquino III, the 71-year-old former army commander rallied the troops to continue the fight against terror groups.

“Thank you for vigilantly standing watch over the threats of global terrorism by the ISIS elements and for persistently guarding against the occurrence of terroristic incidents in the country,” Gazmin said in a speech.

Gazmin is leaving the defense establishment with the Abu Sayyaf still posing serious threats in the southern Philippines. Over the past three months, the terror group beheaded two Canadian hostages after no ransom was paid for them. Members of the group have also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Gazmin’s Legacy

Gazmin, a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1968, served as commander of the Presidential Security Group under President Cory Aquino, helping defend her government against rebel troops in several coup attempts.

As a young officer in the 1970s, he was assigned to a detention facility that held Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., the current president’s father, who was jailed by dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

He was appointed 40th Commanding General of the Philippines Army in 1999. He also served as the Ambassador of the Philippines to Cambodia from 2002 to 2004. In 2010, he was appointed the country’s 35th defense chief who ushered the AFP modernization on an unprecedented scale.

While he introduced reforms and the upgrading of military capabilities, Gazmin also was criticized for the government’s poor handling of the 2013 Zamboanga siege and Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013. The defense establishment also came under fire for the 2015 Mamasapano debacle that cost the lives of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos.

Incoming Defense Secretary

Gazmin will be replaced by another retired army general, Delfin Lorenzana, a former military attaché to Washington.

Lorenzana is scheduled to meet incoming President Rodrigo Duterte and other senior defense officials at Camp Aguinaldo, a day after the Duterte assumes office.

With foreign and Filipino hostages still in captivity, the incoming government will have its hands full dealing with the Abu Sayyaf.

Incoming AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya said he will receive his marching orders from Duterte during the July 1st meeting. “But in so far as I am concerned,” he said, “I will fight them (Abu Sayyaf) 24/7.”

To facilitate their transition into their posts, Visaya and Lorenzana have been attending briefings on the status of military operations in the south.

There are currently more than 3,000 soldiers in Basilan and Sulu to pursue the bandits, previously reported as numbering less than 500.

“Kaya naman talaga natin ‘to (We really can handle this). We have enough forces,” Visaya said.

Government troops still outgun the relatively small terror group, Visaya said, but what makes it challenging is the help the bandits get from the local population where they operate.

CNN Philippines' Eimor Santos contributed to this report.