GENERAL ROMEO C. ESPINO (1914-2003) was the first and only Bataeño to serve as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines from 1971 to 1980. He is best remembered as the longest serving Chief of Staff. He was also former chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross.
Espino, born on December 20, 1914, was a native of Barangay Tabing-ilog, Samal. He completed his college degree at the University of the Philippines. He joined the Philippine Army in 1941 as an ROTC officer and fought against the Japanese during World War II. He literally rose from the ranks. He was designated as Commanding General of the Philippine Army from January 13, 1967 until May 29, 1968.
In 1971, former President Ferdinand Marcos appointed him as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. He replaced Lt. Gen. Manuel T. Yan. During his term, he was in command of the Philippine Army (under Gen. Rafael Zagala), Philippine Navy (Commodore Hilario Ruiz), Philippine Air Force (Gen. Jose Rancudo) and Philippine Constabulary (Gen. Fidel V. Ramos).
It is on records that General Romeo Espino was the one who implemented the Martial Law rule of President Marcos, to include the “arrest and detention of persons who committed crimes and offenses related to insurrection and rebellion, as well as other crimes like kidnapping, robbery, carnapping, smuggling, gun-running, trafficking of prohibited drugs and hijacking, tax evasion, and price manipulation.”
He also led the military in the fight against the New People’s Army (NPA) and the so-called Moro National Liberation Front. He was commended for the arrest of Commander Dante (Bernabe Buscayno) of the NPA and Lt. Victor Corpuz in 1976.
General Espino retired from government service in 1980. He was replaced by General Fabian Ver (1980-1986), former head of the National Intelligence and Security Agency, and the Presidential Security Command.
Espino was married to Bella Espino and had five children: Leslie, Ralph, Ma. Theresa, Maribelle and Helene. He passed away on February 17, 2003. His remains lie at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, specifically at Burial Section C which is reserved for former Chiefs of Staff.