Next AFP chief of staff is recipient of highest military award

Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana (right) during the parade before turnover of command of the 6th Infantry Division to Maj. Gen. Diosdado Carreon on Monday (1 July 2019). MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH CABRERA

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 28 January) – Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana may look unique, if awkward, for using his left hand when rendering a salute, but the next chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is a recipient of the Medal of Valor, the highest military award for combat.

Malacañang announced Wednesday that President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed Sobejana, currently the commanding general of the Philippine Army, to replace General Gilbert Gapay, who will retire on February 4 as he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 56.

Sobejana, a member of the Philippine Military Academy “Hinirang” Class of 1987, obtained the Medal of Valor after the platoon he commanded as a captain engaged Abu Sayyaf fighters in Basilan in a four-hour battle where he suffered multiple wounds.

His arm was almost severed but he and his men managed to hold off the enemies.

The Abu Sayyaf, initially numbering around 20, reportedly called for reinforcement until they reached roughly 150.

Sobejana sustained four gunshot wounds, two on his right forearm, during the clash. A bullet damaged his rifle.

He kept firing using his left hand while directing his men.

Reports said Sobejana’s unit killed 30 rebels during the battle.

Sobejana also received a Gold Cross medal, two Bronze Cross medals, a Wounded Personnel medal, among other decorations.

From 2003 to 2004, he was deployed under the United Nations Mission in East Timor as a military observer.

From 2013 to 2014, he served as chief of staff of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force along the Israel-Syria borders.

Sobejana served as commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade in 2016, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu in 2017, commander of the 6th Infantry Division in 2018, and commander of the Western Mindanao Command in 2019.

In August 2020, Duterte appointed Sobejana as the Army chief.

Like Gapay, Sobejana will serve only for a short term. He is set to retire on July 31, 2021.

He will be the 55th AFP chief of staff and the eighth under Duterte. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera/MindaNews)