TACLOBAN CITY -- The Philippine Army has tagged 32 towns and a city in Eastern Visayas as priority in their anti-insurgency drive, citing recent reports of attacks and fortification activities of armed rebels in these areas.

The areas identified as rebel-infested are San Isidro, Victoria, Bobon, Catarman, Lope de Vega, Las Navas, Silvino Lobos, Laoang, Palapag, and Lapinig in Northern Samar; Matuguinao, San Jorge, San Jose de Buan, Jiabong, Motiong, Hinabangan, Calbiga, Pinabacdao, Basey, and Marabut in Samar.

Also listed are Arteche, Oras, Dolores, Can-avid, Balangiga, and Giporlos in Eastern Samar; Carigara, Jaro, Albuera, Burauen, Mahaplag, Baybay City, and Hilongos in Leyte.

During the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) meeting here on Wednesday, Philippine Army 8th Infantry Division Commander Major Gen. Raul Farnacio confirmed that members of the New People’s Army (NPA) had launched 34 violent attacks this year such as harassment, murder, detonation of landmines, raids, ambush, and attempted assassination.

From January to August 10 this year, rebels had 847 other activities, which include sightings, meetings, recruitment, and extortion.

“The NPA continues to recruit members by use of the communist theology, propaganda, lie, deceit and intimidation. They have been doing extortion as well to generate needed funds for procurement of firearms,”  Farnacio said.

Of the 847 rebel activities, 332 were recorded in Northern Samar, 230 in Samar, 190 in Eastern Samar, and 95 Leyte province. No activity of armed rebels was reported in Southern Leyte and Biliran provinces.

“The reason why many Northern Samar villages is conflict-affected, because many areas are isolated. It has been said that insurgency begins where the road ends. The road network is the solution to poverty and insurgency. If people earn and go to schools, insurgency will become irrelevant,” said Northern Samar Vice Governor Garry Lavin.

Samar Governor Sharee Ann Tan, RPOC chairperson , said they had asked the Department of Budget and Management to allocate PHP12 billion for road opening and concreting in three Samar provinces.

“We will ask members of the House of Representatives to help us, that proposed funds will be included in budget hearings,” Tan told council members.

Farnacio reiterated his call for collaboration to curb insurgency in Eastern Visayas region since the problem can not be resolved without the participation of other agencies and stakeholders.

The military official also urged governors and mayors to issue Executive Orders directing the support of community support programs in conflict-affected areas.

The army has been pushing for development-governance-security approach through harmonization of military operation and development projects, engage all stakeholders, and sense of concern for the environment. (PNA)