Duterte picks Philippine Army chief Sobejana as new AFP chief

Jamaine Punzalan and Leila Vicente, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 27 2021 02:41 PM | Updated as of Jan 27 2021 08:58 PM

MANILA (2ND UPDATE) — President Rodrigo Duterte has tapped Army chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana to be the new chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Malacañang said on Wednesday, becoming the third Medal of Valor awardee to lead the organization.

Sobejana will replace Gen. Gilbert Gapay, who will retire on Feb. 4.

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Newly-appointed AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana wearing his Medal of Valor. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Army

"I am deeply grateful for the trust given to me by our Commander-in-Chief President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to take on responsibility and ensuring that this great institution of ours will faithfully perform its duty in protecting the sovereignty of our country against internal and foreign threats," Sobejana said in a statement.

"Rest assured too that I will carry on our mission with the same fervor and commitment as the new leader of the AFP with humility and dedication," he added.

Sobejana will serve as the 55th chief of staff of the AFP, and is the ninth to be appointed as military chief by Duterte.

"We are confident that General Sobejana will continue to modernize our military and undertake reform initiatives to make the Armed Forces truly professional in its mandate as the protector of the people and the State," said Palace spokesman Harry Roque.

"We wish General Sobejana all the best in his new tour of duty as we pray for his success," Roque said in a statement.

Sobejana is an awardee of the country’s highest military award, the Medal of Valor, for his bravery during a gun battle with the Abu Sayyaf terror group in 1995.

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Then Capt. Cirilo Sobejana is conferred the Wounded Personnel Medal award by then Defense Secretary Renato De Villa for his role in a major encounter against the Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan in 1995, where he also earned his Medal of Valor. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Army

He entered the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in 1983 and graduated in 1987, according to the Army's website. He will reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on July 31.

Sobejana led various units including the 1st Scout Ranger Company, the Best Company in 1994; 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion, awarded as Best Battalion in 2009; 601st Infantry Brigade, named Best Brigade in 2016; and the 6th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, awarded as Best Division in 2018.

He also served as commandant of the Scout Ranger Training School; and commander of the Civil-Military Operations Group (now Regiment), the Joint Task Force Sulu, and the 6th Infantry “Kampilan” Division. 

He was also commander of the AFP Western Mindanao Command.

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Sobejana was deployed under the auspices of the United Nations Mission in East Timor as Military Observer from 2003 to 2004, and in the Truce Line between Syria and Israel, where he became the first Filipino Chief of Staff of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force from 2013 to 2014.

In May 2019, Duterte bestowed Sobejana the Philippine Legion of Honor "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service rendered to the Philippine Government, particularly to the Armed Forces of the Philippines," according to the Army's website. 

Sobejana assumed the Army leadership in July last year.

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Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana distinctly salutes with his left hand to render respect, because of severe injuries to his right-hand from the January 1995 encounter with the ASG in Basilan, where he earned his Medal of Valor. Sobejana was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as the 55th Chief of Staff of the AFP. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Army