MANILA - Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the new Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, will focus on ending terrorism and insurgency in the country during his short stint at the helm of the military, he said Thursday.
“This would be a very big challenge for me. I have a lot of things in mind. After the turnover, magkakaroon kami ng command conference at doon ko ilalatag ang aming gagawin with a limited period of time,” Sobejana told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(After the turnover, we will have a command conference where we will lay down all our plans within the limited period of time.)
Sobejana will serve as the 55th chief of the Philippine military, and is the ninth to be appointed for the post by President Rodrigo Duterte. He replaced Gen. Gilbert Gapay, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 56 on Thursday.
“We need to come up with a catch-up plan and strategies para sa ganun, we can finally put an end to the menace of terrorism and insurgency,” he said.
Terrorism still threatens the southern Philippines, with the presence of remnants of the Abu Sayyaf Group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and the Daulah Islamiyah-inspired groups.
“We want to contain the problem sa Mindanao lang. We cannot afford na magkaroon ng spillover, especially here in Metro Manila and the Visayas region. Kaya we are beefing up our forces in Mindanao, particularly in the Sulu, Maguindanao and other adjoining provinces within the Bangsamoro region, para masiguro natin hindi sila makapuslit,” he said.
He believes government forces can guard and contain these terror groups in the area with the help from different stakeholders.
“Ang ating focus hindi lang pag-pursue sa kalaban, kung hindi pag-secure din sa ating mga kababayan na tahimik na naghahanap-buhay doon sa parteng Mindanao."
(Our focus is not only to pursue the enemy, but to secure the public quietly making a living in that part of Mindanao.)
PEACE TALKS WITH REDS, NOT NOW
Sobejana said he believes in the wisdom of the national leadership, particularly on closing the doors to peace negotiations with the communist group.
“But time may come, we will sit down again with them. Pero sa ngayon, nakikita namin, the best option 'wag muna tayong mag-ceasefire with them,” he said.
(But for now, the best option is not to have a ceasefire with them.)
While peace talk is good, Sobejana said the CPP-NPA-NDF lacked sincerity as they continue to reinforce and kill soldiers amid negotiations.
“Somehow, they are taking advantage of it. They are building their capabilities while we are negotiating. Yun ang ayaw natin. Yung sincerity yung problema natin. Wala namang gustong hindi maging mapayapa, tahimik ang ating bansa. Ang gusto natin dito sinseridad,” he said.
(We don’t like that. The problem here is sincerity. Who doesn’t want a peaceful country? We want their sincerity.)
He said the group still has presence in farflung areas, but their manuever space is limited due to what he describes as strategic deployment of troops and active support of their partners in the civil government, as well as people in the community.
“If we are able to continue or sustain our momentum, time will come na wala na itong grupo na ito at magkaroon na tayo ng sinasabing kapayapaan at katahimikan saan mang sulok dito sa ating bansa,” he said.
(If we are able to continue or sustain our momentum, time will come that this group will disappear and we will have what we call peace in any part of the country).
The military drew flak after its intelligence chief published a list that erroneously tagged alumni of the University of the Philippines as communist rebels.
“As regards to failure of intelligence na sinasabi, we learned lessons from those and we need to rectify those mistakes. We will do our best effort,” he said.
Despite the hiccup, he believes that the military’s capability to find and eventually finish the enemy has greatly improved as a result of their modernization program.
“We are identifying our capability gaps and we wanted to fill in these gaps,” he said.