Newly-appointed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Cirilito Sobejana has made himself known not only for rising to the highest level of command in the AFP, but also for his distinction of using his left hand to salute.
While it may seem as a trivial tidbit for most people, the salute is an important gesture of respect, and Sobejana’s practice is both unique and typically not allowed, within military ranks; more than just a personal preference, it serves as a reminder of a deadly encounter wherein he fought to survive.
Sobejana, at the time a Captain of the First Scout Ranger Regiment, acted on intel suggesting that there were over 100 armed individuals gathering in the town of Isabela, Basilan, from the newly formed terrorist group known as the Abu Sayyaf, on January 13, 1995. A platoon of 16 soldiers were led by Sobejana, and upon arriving in the town, at least 20 insurgents were spotted, and after taking tactical positions, were engaged by the Platt on and their captain.
As the firefight raged on, more insurgents came out of hiding to apply pressure on the platoon and prevent reinforcements from coming to their aid. Eventually, Sobejana’s right arm took a hit, rendering it unusable and remaining attached mostly by skin.
Before his nearby radioman could finish attending to his wounded arm however, they were hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). Sobejana would manage to avoid further injury from the RPG, as he crawled out of the spot he and his radioman were in.
“…tinamaan din yung aking radioman at doon na ako nag maneuver around habang kagat-kagat ko ang aking hinlalaki para hindi malaglag ang aking kamay, nag shift ako sa left hand pero nung tinamaan din ang aking baril ay kinuha ko ang mga baril ng mga kasamahan kong namatay…” the current AFP Chief said.
Sobejana, with a right arm barely attached and full of bullet wounds, was able to radio in for reinforcements, while also attempting to direct fire in the hopes of out-maneuvering the enemy. Sobejana and the platoon fought for four hours, until backup ultimately arrived to turn the tide of battle.
The casualties numbered at 42 on the Abu Sayyaf’s side while several wounded had escaped. The platoon on the other hand, lost 7 soldiers, with 9 more wounded.
To try and save what remained of his right arm, Sobejana went to the United States to receive 9 surgical treatments over the span of 2 years. Unfortunately, his right arm never recovered full use though he objected to amputation, in order to continue serving the country.
Two years after the battle, Sobejana received both the Wounded Personnel Medal, as well as the prestigious Medal of Valor.
Despite the action going against proper military conduct, the AFP continues to allow his use of a left handed salute, acknowledging his service to the country, and bravery in combat.