By Ali G. Macabalang
Various sectors across Mindanao have expressed bright prospects for more cohesive campaign against terrorism, organized crimes and for better military backing in civil governance, with the designation of Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana as new chief-of staff Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Ostensibly elated over Sobejana’s rise to the AFP top post were key officials in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) where he has spent most of his decisive moments and services as soldier.
Muslim lawmakers and executives also hailed Sobejana’s appointment as a “strategic” part of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s commitment to bring the Bangsamoro region to greater heights.
“I salute our President for choosing Gen. Sobejana as the new CSAFP. In his more than three decades of active service, he has, in many occasions and to the point of openly risking his life and limbs, upheld the AFP motto of ‘Protecting the People, Securing the State,’” Maguindanao 2nd District Rep. Esmael “Toto’ Mangudadatu said.
Mangudadatu attended the President’s formal installation of the new AFP chief in Camp Aguinaldo on Feb. 4, during which the lawmaker and Sobejana took time to have selfie photos.
Sobejana, the first Medal of Valor awardee named as AFP chief, saluted outgoing predecessor, Gen. Gilbert Gapay, and President Duterte on the turnover rites, using as usual his left hand because his other hand has been practically disabled from movement after his almost fatal combat experience in Basilan in 1995.
He received the highest military award for leading a ranger unit in a deadly clash against more than 150 members of the Abu Sayyaf group. Some 30 bandits and seven soldiers were killed in the five-hour firefight that also left him and eight subordinates were wounded. His right forearm was so severely hurt that he can only salute with his left hand.
Rep. Mangudadatu described Sobejana as “a man a man who motivates dedication, commitment and excellence in service among his colleagues and subordinates, while inspiring trust and confidence among various stakeholders in areas (of assignment).”
“Gen. Sobejana has distinguished himself (in) the finest traditions of Filipino soldiery and leadership as contribution to our country’s continuing quest for sustainable development and stable peace and order,” the lawmaker said, recalling the multi-awarded officer’s services to Bangsamoro areas like Maguindanao.
Mangudadatu was Maguindanao governor when Sobejana headed the 601st Infantry Brigade, the 6th Infantry Division and the Western Mindanao Command.
“Noon ako ang gobernador, ikaw ang isa sa lagi naming natatawagan bilang katuwang namin sa Maguindanao Task Force on Reconciliation and Unification (MTFRU) at Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) sa napakalaking hamon ng pagsasaayos ng kapayapaan at katiwasayan sa aming lalawigan. Wala kang pinipiling oras o sitwasyon upang tumugon sa aming kahilingan,” Mangudadatu said in a tribute statement to Sobejana.
Sobejana has barely six months to serve as AFP chief since he will turn 56, the military mandatory retirement age on July 31 this year. Mindanao leaders were hoping for possible extension in Sobejana’s service for him to fully carry out cohesive civil-military strides in conflict-affected communities of the region.
When Malacañang announced on Feb. 2 the appointment of Sobejana, Bangsamoro government officials promptly sounded off words of welcome and support.
Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim and Executive Secretary Abdulraof “Sammy Gambar” Macacua alongside other key Bangsamoro officials travelled to Manila on Feb. 3 to ensure attendance in the AFP leadership turnover rite as requested by Sobejana.
“Gen. Sobejana needs no reminder about our peace and security concerns. He has vast knowledge about it, its nature and consequences,” Ebrahim was quoted as saying.
Ebrahim’s office has cited Sobejana’s support even attracting big investors in the new autonomous region, citing his facilitation of processes in the opening of a British company in pouring in a $3.2-billion natural oil and gas refinery in Sulu in 2019.
Regional Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo lauded Sobejana in rallying the Bangsamoro 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. AGM