President Rodrigo Duterte has chosen Army commander Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana as the next chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to succeed General Gilbert Gapay, Malacanang said.
“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,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Secretary Roque said.
Gapay will reach the military’s mandatory age of retirement of 56 on February 4.
“We wish General Sobejana all the best in his new tour of duty as we pray for his success,” Roque said.
Sobejana himself will serve as AFP chief only until July 31, when he turns 56.
He will take over the helm of one of the weakest military forces in Asia, which is being criticized for its supposed inaction on the aggression of Chinese troops in the West Philippine Sea.
His commander-in-chief, President Rodrigo Duterte, and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also consider the communist insurgency as the biggest threat to the country.
However, Sobejana has experience dealing with Chinese incursions into the country’s waters, having been commander of AFP’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) before he became Army Chief.
In 2019, he reported that Chinese warships left the Sibutu Strait, after disclosing their presence to reporters and, at the time, said the national leadership had been informed so the matter could be raised with Chinese counterparts through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Sobejana said Beijing, through the Chinese Embassy in Manila, had been informed about the incursions.
“I am too sure that they are aware of these incursions,” he said.
Sobejana, a member of the Philippine Military Academy “Hinirang Class” of 1987, assumed command of the Philippine Army last July.
He also commanded the Joint Task Force Sulu, the Maguindanao-based 6th Infantry Division, and WestMinCom.
Sobejana is also a recipient of the Medal of Valor, the country’s highest military award that is equivalent to the Congressional Medal of Honor of the United States.
He earned his Medal of Valor in 1995 after leading the fight with an estimated 150 Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Isabela town in Basilan despite sustaining crippling wounds in the encounter.
Meanwhile, the AFP welcomed Sobejana’s appointment as its next chief.
“Lt. Gen. Sobejana, the incumbent Commanding General of the Philippine Army, epitomizes the finest in Filipino soldiery. He earned the Medal of Valor—the highest military award that can be bestowed to a soldier for the conspicuous and singular act of gallantry above and beyond the call of duty,” military spokesperson, Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in a statement.
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