By Ali G. Macabalang
President Rodrigo Duterte has named Philippine Army (PA) Chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana as the next head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Malacañang announced on Wednesday.
“The Palace confirms that Gen. Cirilito Sobejana will be the next Chief of Staff (of the AFP), Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement heralded by Palace reporters including the Philippine News Agency (PNA).
The announcement drew instant words of welcome and support from top Bangsamoro autonomous region officials, who took turns in describing Sobejana’s rise to the AFP highest post as an “additional inspiration” to their strides for cohesive campaign for “stable peace and equitable growth” in the area of autonomy and its environs.
Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim, Executive Secretary Abdulraof “Sammy Gambar” Macacua, and Education Minister Mohagher Icbal, through their respective staff officials, said Sobejana will be a “potent bridge” towards “realizing our dream for better state of peace and security” in the region. Ebrahim and Macacua were set to attend the formal installation in Camp Aguinaldo of Sobejana as new AFP Chief of Staff.
“Gen. Sobejana needs no much prodding on our peace and security concerns. He has vast knowledge of the issue, its nature and consequences,” Ebrahim’s Deputy Executive Secretary Abdullah Cusain said, citing his long years of assignments in different parts of the region.
Cusain recalled that Gen. Sobejana, during his stint at the Western Mindanao Command, had even helped attract big investors to pour in capitals for economic development ventures as civil counterpart in bringing the Bangsamoro area to greater heights.
In August 2019, Sobejana facilitated the meeting here between Chief Minister Ebrahim and Energy International Ltd. (EWIL) Executive Director Graham Stewart Elliot to tackle the latter’s proposal for a US$3.2-billion natural gas and oil refinery in Lugus, Sulu following successful initial exploration. EWIL is a British firm involved in oil industry.
Lugus Mayor Hadar Hajiri and Elliot, with Sobejana and Mindanao Development Authority Chairman Manny Piñol as witnesses, signed an enabling agreement in September. The next month, the officials kicked off works on the refinery complex construction.
Bangsamoro’s Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo also vouched for Gen. Sobejana’s support for the infant regional government’s delivery of relief goods and services to Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi as well as in the transport of residents in the island provinces stranded in the advent of quarantine protocols against Coronavirus pandemic.
“He (Gen. Sobejana as WestMinCom chief) lent us Naval boats and facilities in transporting relief goods, and in the conveyance of stranded residents from mainland Mindanao to the island provinces,” Sinarimbo told the Philippine Muslim Today online news Wednesday night.
Sobejana would replace AFP chief-of-staff Gilbert Gapay who reaches the mandatory retirement age of 56 on Feb. 4, Thursday.
Roque said the Palace believes in Sobejana’s competence to lead the AFP.
Philippine National Police Chief Gen. Debold Sinas, a batch-mate of Sobejana in the Philippine Military Academy’s
1987 “Hinirang” Class said his mistah “brings with him the finest qualities of leadership to assume command of the AFP at this most critical point when the government is facing its greatest challenge and opportunity to end communist insurgency in the Philippines.”
Sobejana is the commanding general of the Philippine Army since July last year.
He also commanded the Joint Task Force Sulu, the Maguindanao-based 6th Infantry Division, and the Western Mindanao Command.
He is also a recipient of the Medal of Valor, the country’s highest military award equivalent to the Congressional Medal of Honor of the United States.
He earned his Medal of Valor in 1995 after successfully leading a fight with an estimated 150 Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Isabela town in Basilan despite sustaining crippling wounds in the encounter. AGM