Monday, January 25, 2016

PA relentless in anti-NPA moves despite CamSur’s CMRD status

LEGAZPI CITY, Jan. 24 (PNA) -- Despite Camarines Sur’s declared status as already a “peaceful and ready for further development” area, the Philippine Army (PA) is not relenting on its intense anti-insurgency campaign in the province, which recently resulted in the killing of two New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas.

A belated report reaching here Sunday from the PA’s 9th Infantry (Spear) Division (ID) based in Pili, Camarines Sur identified the slain rebels as Rodulfo Fuentabilla, alias Ronel, and Nike Rebuya, alias Mike.

One of their companions, which the report identified only as a certain Ghie, was captured during the encounter that took place shortly before noontime last Jan. 18 at Sitio Panag, Barangay Gibgos, Caramoan, Camarines Sur.

All three were elements of the 14-man NPA band operating in the province’s Partido Area led by unit commander Francisco Mendoza, alias Omeng, according to the report which explained that the encounter ensued while troopers of the PA’s 83rd Infantry Battalion and 91st Division Reconnaissance Company under Lt. Raydez Acosta were conducting field security patrol.

The rest of the rebels withdrew after engaging the military men in a 15-minute firefight, leaving behind their dead and cornered comrades.

Brig. Gen. Ferdinand Quidilla, the 9th ID commander, said in the report that the encounter was a result of the intensified anti-insurgency drive being initiated by the military in Bicol to toughen regional security even as most parts of the region are already under the so-called Conflict-Manageable and Ready for Further Development (CMRD) area status.

Camarines Sur was classified by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under such “peaceful” status in April last year based on a resolution passed by the provincial legislative board declaring the entire province as a CMRD area.

The resolution cited the relentless campaign of the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in pursuit of peace and security, which has finally gained ground in cutting down, if not totally eradicating, activities of the NPA in the province.

Such declaration paved the way for the forging of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the provincial government and the AFP which formalized the "shifting effort from clearing of barangays from insurgent affectation supported by socio-economic development to a reverse role.”

The MOU, which came as a declaration of peace in the province, emphasizes the implementation of more socio-economic and development projects that the civil government will implement with the support and protection of the military.

It was based on the decreased violent activities of the NPA, the reduction of its manpower strength and firearms and potential support system in the barangays as well as its failed recovery efforts.

The military said that from 2004 to 2014, the NPA strength in terms of firearms and manpower in Camarines Sur had significantly decreased to 74 from 91 percent while atrocities like extortion, harassment and liquidation and non-violent activities like movements and mass actions also followed a downward trend.

The AFP’s unrelenting commitment to peace through the conduct of various civic actions under its intensified stakeholder engagement with the local government units (LGUs) have contributed in the improvement of the province’s tourism industry, increase in agricultural productivity and inflow of private investments, it said.

The PA’s Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP), with its Bayanihan Team Activities (BTA) showcasing a paradigm shift from enemy-centered to people-centered approach resulting in a more cooperative community, also enabled rebels to return to the folds of law and start a new life.

These achievements, according to Quidilla, would have not been possible without the cooperation of the leaders of the province along with the LGUs who have partnered with the AFP in fighting insurgency.

The 45-year-old insurgency being waged by the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF), he said, has been preventing the progress and economic development of the province and all other affected localities in Bicol and in the country.

In over 40 years, Quidilla said, Camarines Sur’s opportunity to advance to progress -- with its vast mineral deposits, agricultural lands, rich fishing grounds, exotic tourist destinations, rich natural resources and hard-working people -- has been stalled by unstable peace situation due to the presence of the NPAs and the culture of violence it has developed among local communities.

They prevent the implementation of government infrastructure projects, harass industrial companies, extort money in the form of “revolutionary taxes” from businessmen, contractors, local politicians and even from farmers, and execute those who refuse to remit, including innocent civilians and civilian government officials, he said.

The same situation, according Quidilla, had been true in all the six provinces of Bicol until lately when three others of its six provinces provinces—Catanduanes, Camarines Norte and Albay -- were declared one after the other as CMRD areas.

Catanduanes, an island-province, was placed under the same declaration in December 2014 owing to the dwindling local insurgency level observed during the recent years -- from the constant decrease of NPA manpower, firearms, affected barangays and activities.

The local CPP-NPA-NDF politico-military organizations in Catanduanes as well as in Camarines Norte, Albay and Camarines Sur have been reduced to a minimal level that they can no longer pose a serious threat to peace and order, providing once again a space where the people can feel safe and grow as progressive communities.

With these four Bicol provinces already considered areas of peace with insurgency regarded as already manageable, what are left with still troubled situations are Sorsogon and Masbate where the NPAs are reportedly being coddled by powerful local politicians for use as political goons during elections.

While current military troop levels are maintained in Camarines Sur, Albay, Catanduanes and Camarines Norte to go on performing the lead role in protecting the government’s anti-insurgency gains in these areas, Quidilla said, “we can give more focus now on these remaining two provinces in our internal security operations to finally end communist insurgency in the Bicol region soon.” (PNA) SCS/FGS/DOC/CBD/PJN