NEW Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana yesterday said the military is beefing up forces in Mindanao as part of an intensified campaign against terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
Interviewed over the dzMM Teleradyo, Sobejana also said his leadership would focus on the fight against the new People’s Army which President Duterte wants defeated before the end of his term in June next year.
Sobejana, former Army chief, assumed the top military post yesterday in rites at the AFP headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, presided by President Duterte.
He replaced now retired Gen. Gilbert Gapay who reached the mandatory retirement age of 56.
The President lauded Gapay and asked him to continue working in government, either though the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System or the Department of National Defense.
On Sobejana, Duterte urged him to continue being vigilant and proactive in performing his duties, and to lead the Armed Forces towards more success in its campaign against insurgency, terrorism, and other threats to national security.
Sobejana, in his assumption speech, appealed for public support in the fight all threat groups and said the AFP under his watch will adopt a “whole of nation approach” to end local armed conflict.
In the radio interview, Sobejana acknowledged that the military continues to face the threats posed by the Abu Sayyaf, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Maute Group and other terrorist groups in Mindanao. The terrorist groups have a combined strength of about 600 men based on military estimates.
“We want to confine the problem in Mindanao because we cannot afford a spillover, specially here in Metro Manila and Visayas region,” said Sobejana.
“That’s why we are beefing up our forces in Mindanao, particularly in Sulu, Maguindanao and other adjoining provinces within the Bangsamoro region to ensure they won’t get out.
With the convergence of efforts among stakeholders, we can confine them in that place,” he said.
Sobejana assured the public that the people of Mindanao will be secured by the military while government troops are going after the terrorist forces.
In the campaign against communist insurgency, Sobejana said the Armed Forces will sustain its operations against the New People’s Army rebels. The military said the NPA’s strength is around 3,500 men.
Sobejana said the NPA still has the capability to stage attacks in far-flung areas but said the rebels have a “limited maneuver space” due to strategic deployment of forces and the support of the people.
“If we are able to continue or sustain our momentum, time will come this group will be gone and we will have a long-lasting peace in any part of the country,” said Sobejana.
Sobejana said he is opposed to the resumption of peace talks and declaration of ceasefire with the communists until the latter proves its sincerity to talk peace.
President Duterte issued a proclamation in November 2017, terminating peace negotiations with the communists. In March last year, he said he was permanently ending the peace talks with the group.
“While peace talks is good, somehow they are taking advantage of it. They are building their capabilities while we are negotiating, we do not want that,” said Sobejana.
Worse, Sobejana said NPA rebels have been killing soldiers who are on vacation. “Our problem is their sincerity. Everyone wants peace in the country, what we just need is sincerity (on the part of the communists),” he said. — With Jocelyn Montemayor