When Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, retires today after 34 years in service, he will also turn over his government-issued M-653 rifle, which he used for nearly three decades.
Sobejana, from Zamboanguita town in Negros Oriental, said he was a young lieutenant when the weapon was issued to him.
“It was this weapon I used in 27 gun battles against rebels and terrorists, particularly the Abu Sayyaf Group on that fateful day of Friday the 13th 1995 in Matarling, Basilan, where I was seriously wounded,” he told the Philippine News Agency in an exclusive interview yesterday, a day before he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 56.
As an Army Scout Ranger who specialized in jungle fighting, Sobejana saw action in various parts of the country, fighting insurgents and terrorists, even after he recovered from the 1995 Basilan incident where he almost lost his right arm.
For his bravery in leading 15 men against at least 150 bandits, he was awarded the Medal of Valor.
After undergoing a number of surgical procedures in the United States, he got used to firing the M-653 with his more able left hand, which he also uses to salute.
Sobejana, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1987, thanked his commander-in-chief, President Rodrigo Duterte, for giving him the opportunity to serve as military chief.
He also thanked soldiers for their heroism and sacrifice in protecting the country, especially amid the pandemic.
A fitting ceremony, spiced with an honor parade, at Camp Aguinaldo will send off Sobejana.
He will be succeeded by Lt. Gen. Jose Faustino Jr., the incumbent commander of the Joint Task Force Mindanao and former acting commanding general of the Philippine Army.
The AFP yesterday welcomed Duterte’s appointment of Faustino as its next chief.
“The AFP welcomes the decision of the President to appoint Lt. Gen. Jose Faustino as the next chief of staff of the AFP, replacing General Cirilito Sobejana who will retire on July 31,” AFP public affairs office chief, Navy Capt. Jonathan Zata, said in a statement.
Faustino, a member of PMA Class of 1988, also served as acting commanding general of the Philippine Army and head of the Eastern Mindanao Command.
“His wealth of experience and passion for service as a commander and staff officer gives him the mettle to lead the AFP in accomplishing its mission especially as we turn up a notch our operations in achieving lasting peace and development in the country,” Zata said.
The Department of National Defense also expressed its full confidence in the capability of Faustino as the new AFP chief.
“A seasoned military commander, Lt. Gen. Faustino will ably direct our Armed Forces toward addressing the pressing peace and security concerns of our country, particularly, in ending the local communist armed conflict that has dragged our country down for the last five decades. We look to Lt. Gen. Faustino to lead our troops to continue making the AFP a highly professional, capable, and world-class organization that we envision it to be,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement.
Lorenzana, meanwhile, thanked Sobejana for his dedication to service and wished him the best on his retirement.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Palace wishes Faustino success as he takes the helm of AFP.
“We are confident that Gen. Faustino will continue the peace and development efforts of his predecessors while aggressively building up our defense capability,” Roque said.*PNA