Reds continue drive to retake Leyte’s upland areas: Army

By Roel Amazona

January 20, 2018, 1:54 pm

TACLOBAN CITY -- Armed rebels in Samar provinces continue to strengthen their organization in Leyte Island in an effort to regain their former strongholds, the Philippine Army has confirmed.

Philippine Army 802nd Brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Francisco Mendoza, said Friday a captured member of the New People’s Army (NPA) from Northern Samar bared the plan.

“Rebels have only 40 members in Leyte province, but most of them are armed. The augmentation comes from Northern Samar,” Mendoza said in an interview.

On Jan. 4, two days after the end of the holiday truce, at least two NPA members were killed in the latest clash between rebels and government troops in the upland village of Hilapnitan in Baybay City.
The soldiers from the 78th Infantry Battalion acted on a report from residents about the armed rebels’ extortion activities in the community.

The army also recovered two rifles from the rebels. No one from the government side was killed in the clash.

The most aggressive attempt was last August, which led to a five-day gun battle. The clashes led to the discovery of NPA camps and drove the rebels to go upland, farther from the settlements.
However, Mendoza clarified that the recent series of clashes in the province is not an indication of the strengthening force of the insurgents but is rather “a manifestation of their effort to regain their lost grounds in Leyte”.

“The rebel groups are having a hard time gathering support, convincing and recruiting residents in Leyte to join the movement,” he said, attributing this to the intensified implementation of the government’s infrastructure projects with livelihood programs and delivery of basic health services to far-flung villages in Leyte.

Mendoza added that the difficulty in recruiting new rebels is also an indication that the military and the Philippine National Police in Leyte are in full control of the peace and order situation.

“We intend to keep this until such time that we can declare Leyte as completely insurgency-free,” he added.

Brig. Gen. Mario Lacurom, commander of the Army’s 803rd Brigade, confirmed the move of rebels to send their men to Leyte as reinforcement.

About 150 armed rebels are operating in Northern Samar and the first legislative district of Samar province.

“We want to call the cooperation of everybody in our effort to secure peace and order because the military should not be at the forefront in the campaign but rather we should only be a support group. Insurgency cannot be solved through military operations, but by addressing the issues and concerns of people vulnerable to the influence of rebels,” Lacurom said.  (PNA)

PNA file photo