Emulate peace efforts of Basilan residents — retired AFP chief

John Unson - Philstar.com
Emulate peace efforts of Basilan residents � retired AFP chief
The now retired Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana (2nd from left) led Wednesday’s launching of the memorial marker erected in Barangay Kapayawan, Isabela City in his honor.
via John Unson

COTABATO CITY, Philippines — The outgoing Armed Forces chief of staff, who got a Medal of Valor for gallantry, urged southerners to emulate how residents of Basilan have made their province peaceful.

Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, who retired from the Philippine Army on Saturday, was still a captain in a Ranger unit when he got maimed in a deadly clash with Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Barangay Kapayawan in Isabela City in Basilan on January 13, 1995.

Sobejana, who graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1987, was replaced by Army Lt. Gen. Faustino, Jr., whose designation as new Armed Forces chief of staff was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last Thurday.

Basilan, one of the five provinces in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, was birthplace of the Abu Sayyaf.

Its founder, the late Abduradjak Janjalani, said to have studied Islamic theology in Syria, was, in fact, born and raised in Isabela City. He was killed by a police team in a gunfight in the seaside Barangay Tumakid in Lamitan City, also in Basilan almost two decades ago,

Sobejana, badly wounded in the Kapayawan encounter, got a Medal of Valor for bravery in action in the incident that left five other rangers and two militiamen dead. Six of his subordinates were wounded in the clash.

“Thanks to the cooperation of local executives, the police and the military, there are barely 20 Abu Sayyaf members still hiding in Basilan now and local authorities have been receiving surrender feelers from them lately,” Sobejana said.

More than 300 Abu Sayyaf members in Basilan surrendered and returned to the fold of law in batches since 2013 through the joint intercession of provincial and municipal leaders and local executives in its two cities, Isabela and Lamitan.

Sobejana said most of the Abu Sayyaf terrorists who bolted from the group surrendered from between 2016 to early this year through a local reconciliation campaign dubbed Program Against Violent Extremism, or PAVE.

The PAVE was pioneered by House Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman, who is Basilan’s lone congressional representative, the provincial peace and order council led by Gov. Jim Salliman and the league of mayors in the province.

“Now, Basilan is becoming the new investment hub of the Bangsamoro region. Peace is easier achieved if different sectors are to cooperate in securing the return to society of violent religious extremists,” Sobejana said.

Gerry Salapuddin, administrator of the Southern Philippines Development Authority, said Sunday he is grateful to Sobejana for not harboring any grudge against Muslims in Basilan despite his having had bullet wounds sustained in an encounter with Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Isabela City that permanently maimed his right arm.

“He is an example of a fine officer and a gentleman. He could have perpetrated revenge when he became commander of the Western Mindanao Command that has jurisdiction over Basilan but he did not,” Salapuddin, a Yakan from Tuburan town in the island province, said.

Sobejana visited last Wednesday the scene of the encounter where he almost got killed and lit a candle on a memorial marker built by local executives and military officials led by Brig. Gen. Domingo Gobway, commander of the Army’s 101st Brigade.

In a statement Sunday, Sobejana said he has no bitter feelings against Muslims in Basilan, one of the five provinces in the core territory of the Bangsamoro region.

Sobejana urged Muslim and Christian residents of Basilan to continue fostering peace in their once hostile province, whose picturesque beaches that were former enclaves of the Abu Sayyaf are now frequented by local tourists and residents of Zamboanga City.

Bikers from around Basilan, from the Zamboanga peninsula and central Mindanao have lately been touring around the once dangerous towns in the province, including Al-Barka municipality, scene of deadly military-Abu Sayyaf clashes from between 2000 to 2010.

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